First Fortnight: Ending mental health stigma since 2009

First Fortnight is heading into its 11th year of raising awareness and trying to erase the stigma of mental health in Ireland and further afield.

The first few weeks of January are always a struggle for anyone with mental health issues, after the pressure cooker of Christmas being bombarded with festive imagery, followed by the collective insta–optimism of the New Year’s resolution, as if all it takes is a few ‘dry’ weeks and a gym subscription.

Since 2009, First Fortnight has aimed to make it easier to address these issues, through music, theatre, debates, comedy, spoken word and other artforms. In its mission statement, the charity says it aims to “make the beginning of each year synonymous with mental health awareness, challenging prejudice and ending stigma”.

The original First Fortnight was hatched as a one–off event in Dublin in 2009, with its first two–week event in 2012. This year, First Fortnight takes place in 17 counties, with 119 events in 62 venues, with an overarching theme of loneliness, isolation and community. The carefully–curated programme once again is intended to spark conversation around these themes.

One of the most notable music events this year is the premiere of the opera How Aria? At St Patrick’s University Hospital this Sunday — a collaboration between poet Stephen James Smith, composer Amanda Feery, the Irish National Opera and users of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services.

The voice of Dublin poet Smith will echo through the festival in numerous events, as he’ll also be hosting the Cistin event at St Patrick’s next Thursday, featuring Cork singer-songwriter Matilda O’Mahony, Glasgow spoken word artist Leyla Josephine and an electronica–folk collaboration between Una Quinn and Neil Campbell.

Stephen James Smith will also be hosting the three showcase Therapy Sessions gigs — with the first one tonight in Dublin’s Workmans Club and the second in the same venue on Friday week.

Stephen James Smith hosts the Therapy Sessions gigs

Tonight, James has curated the spoken word programme, which features James Crickard, Bohdan Piasecki, Stephen Murphy and Geoff the Poet. Geoff ‘The Poet’ Finan has partnered this year with First Fortnight and the Eastern Region Traveller Health Network to explore issues around identity and mental health in Traveller men — resulting in a special performance of the poem Gloke.

Tonight’s music in the Workmans is programmed by Ham Sandwich, and they’ve added hip-hop/electronic pop duo Tebi Rex, left-field pop artist CMAT and prolific Kerry-based Northern England singer-songwriter Laurie Shaw.

Therapy Sessions Cork takes place at the Kino tomorrow, with spoken word by Bohdan Piasecki and James Crickard, and one of the most eclectic music line–ups of the festival, featuring the vocal harmonies of Mongoose, legendary Cork folk singer John Spillane, West Cork singer-songwriter Matilda O’Mahony back down from Therapy Sessions 1, and Clonakilty singer-songwriter Eva Clague.

At Therapy Sessions next Friday, music curation is by grime duo Mango x Mathman, so no prizes for guessing they’ve went down a hip-hop path, with a selection of some of Ireland’s best rising MCs — FYNCH, Rebel Phoenix, Denise Chaila and Malaki. And trying to get a word in also will be poets and spoken word artists Felispeaks, Trudi Gorman and Josephine Lelay.

Next week will see a special tribute to the late Scott Hutchison, the frontman of Frightened Rabbit, who died tragically in 2019.

Scott Hutchison

Frightened Rabbit Revisited takes place in Dublin’s Sugar Club next Wednesday and Thursday at Dublin’s Sugar Club and on Friday at Galway’s Roisin Dubh, with a secret line-up of bands covering three songs on the night, and  all ticket proceeds going to the Tiny Changes Foundation, in memory of Scott.

We’ve only touched on some of the music events here, but with well over 100 events across the country and across the arts spectrum — many free — First Fortnight is a chance to join in the conversation and start the year in an alternative, fulfilling way.

  • First Fortnight runs until January 19, at various venue around Ireland. See for the full programme and more information on the important work of the charity and its volunteers.