Happy Happenings


What could be better than lying in a park with friends and watching a good film on a cinema screen? On warm summer evenings in Dublin, and elsewhere around the country, there have been people enjoying just such a privilege, with music before and after the film, picnics and food stalls for those who didn’t bring their own, all courtesy of Happenings.

Happenings is the brainchild of Peter O’Brien, who has been running open-air cinema and other events since 2009. On their Facebook page, a couple of days beforehand, they announce the venue and line up, and all for a lot less than the price of a normal cinema ticket.

There have been regular screenings in Fitzwilliam Square and also Grand Canal Dock and Kings Inns on Dublin’s North Side. O’Brien was originally a golf professional who became angered by the domination of sport by big business. He left it all behind to try and do something that would add to the world rather than just take from it. “I didn’t believe in having a privileged life,” he tells NewsFour. “You can’t sustain a life like that; consuming without putting anything back, except by handing over money, can’t work in the long term. Sustainability drives my life now.”

When we meet him on the banks of the Grand Canal, near where he lives, it’s a sunny afternoon, with droves of people lining the banks, sitting beside each other but not talking. O’Brien points out that you simply have to add music and the atmosphere changes completely. “Cities are often not the happiest places to live; we are living on top of each other but we’re not really connected. Few people speak to or even acknowledge others they see every day around where they work and live. It can be lonely, but with the right intervention, like a little bit of gentle music or a film showing, people feel good and they’re more likely to strike up a conversation. It’s a good way to strengthen a sense of community. We had a free apple pie day in Dartmouth Square. Two local bakeries donated a load of apple pies; we got cream and gave slices away for an afternoon. It was a great success.”

O’Brien is an activist, but one who does it with wit and charm, as he believes that is the only way to really get through to people. The environment, and our treatment of it, is the issue dearest to his heart.

One of the ways he raises awareness of this is through his “leave no trace” policy. Before the events, he explains to the crowd that everything that enters the event area has to be taken away afterwards, right down to cigarette ends and bottle caps.

He hopes this is something people will take away with them in a broader sense. “People are usually good about taking the bigger bits of litter away, but the small bits usually get left behind,” he says. “These build up over time, and the next thing you know, someone else has to pick it all up. If we can get people into the habit of completely cleaning up after themselves without thinking, that’s a success.”

At the events NewsFour attended we witnessed people staying to clean up after the movies and other entertainments had ended. O’Brien himself often stays until the small hours to finish the job properly, but it is getting noticeably better as the regular attendees learn to tidy up automatically.

“Paddy’s Day Unlocked is another event we do that we hope will have a positive effect,” O’Brien says. The unlocked bit is the key here, as these are events where drunkenness is not encouraged. Over 3,000 people attended it in Limerick this year and next year it will be held in Temple Bar, Limerick, Cork and maybe even New York. “The idea of being able to celebrate St Patrick’s Day without being bothered by very drunk people is something of a revelation in Ireland, and something we hope will spread”.

With regard to future plans, O’Brien says, “Our long-term vision is that on a nice sunny summer’s day there could be five Happenings events on in Dublin, some in Limerick, Cork and elsewhere around the country. We’re making connections and partnerships with people in other towns and cities who want to get involved all the time.”

The only problem Happenings is experiencing is that their audience is getting too big. As a result, they will be reducing the amount of notice they’re giving before events and are talking to Dublin City Council about using Merrion Square and other larger venues.

If you would like to keep up to date with Happenings see their Facebook page for details.

Above: Kerri McGuigan Ana Mova Mark Lyons Ciara Ni Fhlionn and Karen McLaughin sit out with a picnic.
Below: Peter O’Brien gets ready to show the movie in Fitzwilliam Square.

By Steve Kingston