As I’m buzzing around the country trying to get to at least three festivals in Ireland every week for a year, I’m being educated. I’m learnin’ stuff that I should probably know already, like never drink rum all night with sailors on an island that there’s no escape from, that one of the best sounds in the world is ‘Ramor’ in a thick Cavan accent, like never have a feed of oysters after being on cider the night before and most recently that Macra na Feirme rocks! It’s true, and I didn’t think it would be. Before this weekend if I had to play a word association game that involved someone shouting ‘Macra’ at me, I would have shouted back ‘Wellies’. Right now I think I’d shout back ‘Savage!’. There was plenty of leg on show over the weekend, but I didn’t see one wellington scar, and trust me, I was looking
Before I headed to Tullamore, I had my own quota to be dealing with. Just up the road in Ballinasloe there was an event being run by the Association of Irish Festivals and Events (AOIFE), called the “Business of Fun”. This conference brought together performers, festival organisers, academics, representatives of government bodies, students, journalists, promoters and everybody else interested in festivals in Ireland, oh yeah, and me! I think I’m becoming the anti-Houdini, I’d get in to anything this weather This whole crowd were in Ballinasloe to talk about festivals in Ireland, how to pimp them, how to fund them, how to run them and what the lay of the land is for the people involved in the industry. There was some socialising and networking to be done, and the whole thing finished up with the Carlton Best of Festival Marketing Awards 2011, it was like a lovely girls competition for festivals! On the night, two Waterford festivals picked up prizes, Ardmore Pattern Festival for their website (http://www.ardmorepatternfestival.ie ) and Waterford Festival of Food winning best merchandise. Up the Deise!
The discussions at the AOIFE conference were incredibly interesting given the carry-on that I’m engaged with at the moment, and there was no end of talks about how best to use social media for promoting festivals. This weekend was the first time that I met people who I’ve been tweeting at, which is probably not the correct way of putting it but I’m still new to all this lark; 3 months ago a tweet would have been what I’d imagine Jonathon Ross asked for when he went into a corner shop as a child, d’aul speech therapy did him the world of good. I found what Una McCarthy, the Arts Council’s Head of Festivals, had to say really interesting. One of the things that I’ve been rattling on about here, is how surprisingly enjoyable small community driven festivals are and it would seem that Una thinks the same way. She decribed how she felt they were “…At the heart of what the arts are about… the intimacy and warmth of small festivals”. I dig! It was great to get to meet and hear Daragh Doyle speaking, he isn’t a Social Media and P.R. Guru (he is really but he just doesn’t like being called it ;-P ) , he’s a self confessed Media Ho. Which is quite the confession from a fella who trained to be a priest! You can find him here http://yay.ie, here http://www.worldirish.com/ , he tweets here @darraghdoyle - ah look, go on the interweb, you can’t miss him! One of the sites he’s currently working on, ran a particularly interesting story about a fella traveling around to three festivals in Ireland every week for a year, imagine that!? What kind of a tit is that fella… find out here http://www.worldirish.com/listening-post/view/191
Darragh’s talk was as entertaining as it was enlightening. His points on effective use of an array of online tools for Irish festivals, hopped between P.R. consultancy, sociology, tech support, comedy and psychology. I also learned a new word… ‘Squee’. I love learning new words and this is the second weekend on the trot that I’ve managed it, mind you, I do have a fairly limited vocabulary and poor grasp on d’aul foreign tongue (as a teenager I thought that the IDA in Waterford stood for “Industrial Astate”, which is how we say it down here. Sad, but true). Squee are things that are so incredibly cute that even that most cynical, argumentative, obtuse bastard has to like them… Shanny, I’m looking over at you Ready…?
More people have looked at Boo online than the combined audiences for the intimate home movies of Pamela Anderson & Tommy and Paris and whoever that discrete young gentleman she was with, was. Moral of the story… doggies in jumpers is THE best type of “doggie-style” for attracting keyboard happy tappers – I know it’s what I spend all my time online looking at!
With a whole new insight into the inner machinations of the Irish Festival, I headed down the Road to Tullamore to check-in and take up my duties as an escort for Macra na Feirme’s “Queen of the Land” festival. I was so excited heading off to this shindig, that I forgot my shoes! I ironed shirts (the first time since september I think), had a suit and tux in Wanderly Wagon and took a two week setback on my Movember efforts and after all this, I forgot the feckin’ shoes. As luck would have it, Ballinasloe is possibly the best place in Ireland to go if you want to be shod. I found a pair of boots in a skip! Check out the photographs, I think I just about got away with it
Henry was one of the judges for the festivities at QOTL and I can say in all honesty that he’s such a gentleman that it’s understandable why the Obamas and their possie called down to him for a pint (and a glass for herself ). Lovely fella. That actually became a refrain for me over the course of the weekend in Tullamore, they were all so bloody nice that the cynical bastrad in me went off in a huff on Saturday night to watch the Munster match; I met up with him today, he said it was a good game. I didn’t know what to expect headin’ to what I had envisaged being a ‘Lovely Girls’ competition, similar to that most famous one of all, the one with the song, you know it, it was on Father Ted. Well I can tell you now, that even though I still don’t have a feckin’ clue what “Road Frontage” is, I enjoyed meself more than an Estonian soccer fan with a referee hunting license would enjoy a box of ammo.
I wasn’t at all sure what Macra was all about before this weekend, well I know now. It’s a social club first and foremost, and I mean social in the broadest sense possible of the word. The members are between the ages of 17 and 35 and they come from all walks of life; this isn’t just for people who know what “Road Frontage” is (although it wouldn’t do any harm. Anyone going to even give me a clue here!?). The members of Macra are the Barrister you dealt with that time you got let off, the girl you chat with at the till in Dunnes, the fella who was playin’ in the pub last Thursday and one or two of them might even be the farmer who supplies beef to your local butcher. Are you catching me drift? Agri-experience is not a pre-requisite and I don’t know if there are pre-requisites. There are city and country dwellers, and I imagine if you’re not too far either side of the age limit you might be able to swing something, so long as you can bowl or look good in a pair of jeans Macra has been around for 60 years and was setup to educate, train, develop, establish links and provide a social outlet for the youth in rural areas. It has about 9,000 members in 300 clubs around the country and the sly feckers are havin’ a great time without telling the rest of us about it! I was delighted to be invited to the event by Maria, but jaysus girl, did you have to wait ’til I was 36 I couldn’t help but admire the organisation and slick running of the event and of the huge crowds of supporters that arrived to Tullamore with the banners they had made (it was like ‘Winning Streak’ on steroids). I now understand why the IFA are such a strong body and lobby group, aren’t they well trained! I chatted to one of the lads at the ball last night and he was telling me that they lobbied and campaigned to have increased roll-out of Broadband in rural areas, it’s not all bowling and lovely girls.
After the comedy gig and some light (ahem!) socialising on Friday night, our first real duty as escorts began at 2PM on Saturday afternoon when we got to find out who the (un)lucky ladies, who would enjoy our company for the weekend, were going to be. I was meeting up with 26 lads from Macra, most of whom were away from home from the weekend, at 2PM in a pub that had a trad session laid on for us (Mick, one of the escorts, and his Dad played a few tunes and Meself and the recently introduced Susan threw a foot at them). Pub at 2, Dinner at 8, what do you think happened?? Well, Would you believe we all made it to dinner… well nearly all, there is one Offaly escort who now answers to the name ‘Sleeping Beauty’, he’d had a late night Now we drank, but t’wasn’t mental like. The banter among the escorts was fairly good, one of my favourite quotes coming from a Kilkenny farmer – “That fella’d ride a cat gettin’ out a sky-light!”. Which I think was meant as a compliment. There was an initial amount of discontent when the escorts found out how many of the girls had boyfriends, but sure didn’t they also have sisters and friends traveling up for each of the nights, sorted! The lad who’d assault an exiting cat even got a date, and if he’d do that to a cat in a window, I shudder to think what he’s going to do to a bird in a bowling alley!?
Dinner went well and we all headed off to the ball. The girls were interviewed by Deric Hartigan and in fairness to him, he did a right job. I think the hardest part for him was reigning in the double-entendres that he’d been lashing out earlier in the pub. We all sat there like good little escorts, up in the front rows for a couple of hours, a few sneakin’ away occasionally to a bottle; but you just knew that keeping animals like ourselves penned up for that long, the release was going to be savage. ‘Twouldn’t be long before ties would be on heads. We all had matching ties, white shirts and name badges, I was given out to by a woman for having a drink when I should have been in behind a busy bar, about three times I was accosted for a Hotel Manager. I couldn’t blame them, cos at one stage I remember thinking “Wud ya look at the cut of that fuc…. oohhh!” as I walked past a full length mirror. The band were rockin’ and the place was hoppin’. There were about 1,000 people at this shindig and they were all well trained in the art of enjoying themselves, Macra takes that kind of training very seriously.
Sunday night was another ball and the announcement of the “Queen of the Land”. I have to say that having spent three days sleeping in Wanderly Wagon at the side of the road, I felt an enjoyable mix of scummy and classy as I stepped out through the sliding door on Sunday night in a tux. I imagined myself a cross between Clive Owen and Paddy Doherty, when really I probably struck more of a Pecker Dunne and Ricky Gervais. Last year’s queen Sherine (That’s her picture with the cow) was a really nice girl and she told me how the year went far too quick on her, she was enjoying it so much. Sherine was part of the judging panel and Henry reckoned that it was easier to get the Obamas to Moneygall than it was pick just one of the girls to win the tiara. Henry reckons he’ll be back as a escort next year; you may start training now buddy, ’tis no feckin’ walk in the park either
After another wonderful evening the tension grew and we paraded around The Bridge House with a bag piper and the whole thing ran as smoothly and as elegantly as the whole weekend had. The judges did have a tough job in fairness, but the girl who won it was really nice and meself and Mick were talkin’ about it afterwards and although it felt a little unfair to pick just one of them after the great weekend we’d all had, she seemed to be so humble along with all her other qualities; it was just a shame she had to be from Kilkenny, I suppose we all have to have one fatal flaw ;-P Well done Bernie Woods!
I still have one festival left for this week, so I’ll keep you posted on that, but what did I learn from my spinning around this week… Well, it seems that with all the wonderful and awe inspiring things there are to look at on the earth, that most Google Earth users have only used it for one thing… to look at their house! I found out that you haven’t ever really walked in another man’s shoes until you’ve gone skip diving in Ballinasloe. I learned that I’d make a much better Cortina than an Escort, that The Bridge House Hotel has the only elevators in the world that defy physics; it’s possible for someone to go down in them at the same time they go up, allegedly I found out what Offaly girls do down on the farm for kicks (see below) and that being a Stalwart of the Land is great fun! Made it through the whole lot of that without saying ‘craic’ once…. ah shite!
Hold the Press!!! This is meant to be three festivals a week after all… Late Wednesday night at this stage and I was in Christchurch Cathedral in Waterford playing my orchestral debut tonight, I was rockin’ that triangle yo! Popped across the road afterwards to the “Golden Years Festival” in The Tower Hotel. Hundreds of silver haired ravers at a ball as part of a festival that saw them racing (backing horses, not actually zimmer-frame relays!!), dancing, singing, bowling, fashion showing and generally having a great time while the rest of us are working, and aren’t they right!
Eddie “Well Boy!” Wynberry, he’d talk the hind legs offa a Bilberry Goat!
This festival is in it’s 9th year and was inspired by a speech that the late Waterford actress Anna Manahan gave at an Age and Power conference; she said that older people should be proud and celebrate their actions and achievements, so the were and they did. There were heavy doses of “I knew your father” when I had a little buzz around and one lady even threw in a “I knew you when you were only this height” for good measure. Margaret Haberlin told me that are 32 of them there from the Ferrybank active retirement group and they were having a ball, literally! Peg and Babs seem to be the driving force behind the whole thing and fair play to them, this crowd have more life in them than I did when I was in talking to them. It’s nice to know that there’s a festival waiting for me in the future… God willin’!
In fairness Margaret, I haven’t grown up much since