On the fiddle
Being at a festival that is run predominantly in one pub over the course of a weekend in an effort to drum up business for that establishment is not ideal, but to quote Tom Jones: It’s not unusual. Clonmel Comedy festival is run solely in Hearns Hotel in the County Tipp town and even though it’s an enjoyable event, one would have to think that spreading the business around a bit wouldn’t do any harm. The local pub where I’ve been known to occasionally make a tool out of myself is run by a fella who in the past has organised gigs in other venues and mystery tours to other pubs. The customers usually come back to him. I’m a bit old fashioned, but I’d like to think a festival is a celebration of some sort; music, food, mountain walking or even the ancient art of stone skimming. The ugly reality is that they’re predominantly run to promote something or generate some business; take a look at The Gathering for a pretty good example of this. I realised a long time ago that the festivals I enjoy most are the ones where this isn’t the M.O., where it’s a very well hidden agenda or I’ve just been enjoying myself far too much to notice or care. Smoke and mirrors seem to be the trick in most cases. I wasn’t comfortable sitting at the bar in the White Horse at The Winter Music Festival in Ballincollig. It wasn’t what festival pubs usually feel like, it felt like a Saturday night out in Any Town Co. Anywhere and not somewhere I’d usually choose to be. To be fair there was a Sean Nós session in the hotel across the road, a day of workshops and concert in the local gaelscoil, but everything else happened under the one roof. The cynic in me felt the gaelscoil sessions were a method of garnering some government funding and the Arts Council logo on the programme did nothing to silence the noisy bastard. When the trad session started up and I noticed that Sliabh Notes’ Matt Cranitch was one of the musicians installed in the corner, I began to warm to proceedings a bit more.
Heart on his Sliabh
On the flip side the quality of the line-up for the weekend was certainly impressive. On Friday night Aoife O’Donovan, lead vocalist with Neo-Bluegrass royalty Crooked Still was performing with Dirk Powell and Riley Baugus. On sunday night Iarla O’Lionáird, sean/nua nós singer and former warbler with Afro Celt Soundsystem was on stage with the Aussie guitar pounder Steve Cooney and a couple more top traddies. It was the Saturday night offering that caught my attention. Gemma Hayes and Fionn Regan were giving good bang for the bucks of Ballincollig with a double header. For all my apprehension about the motives for throwing this festival, less than halfway into Gemma Hayes’s set and I didn’t really care if they were holding this festival in a doctor’s waiting room. The sound that herself and Anne Scott make together sooths and satiates the skeptical soul. Both are talented solo artists, but the partnership they’ve established over the last couple of years has matured and blended as smoothly as a 25 year old Glenlivet. The banter between the songs was pretty good too. Gemma told of being summoned for drinks with Louis Walsh. The Mayo munchkin informed her that he was interested in working with her, but she’d have to make a couple of small changes for it to work out, nothing drastic mind you. First off she’d have to stop writing songs, that clearly wasn’t working out at all, no need for it really. Secondly she’d need to start dating a celebrity, gotta feed that tabloid churn. Thankfully Gemma respectfully declined, although she did a pretty decent cover of Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting. I hear Jedward are single.
Pest Factor – Feck off Louis!
Fionn Regan, with his little Lego-man head on ‘im, followed the girls and he seemed somewhat out of sorts. To be honest he seemed stoned outta his bin, but maybe it was something he ate (a nine bar!) or I could have been imagining it. The atmosphere felt strained, as if Fionn and the crowd didn’t know what to expect next from each other. I’ve heard him put in a better night’s work, but it was still top shelf stuff from the buachaill from Bray and he certainly seemed to be enjoying himself at times. Twenty quid for a double bill of high quality music in a decent venue is fair enough really no matter what the motives.
One of the disadvantages of a festival being in predominantly one spot is that you don’t get to see much else, but it stupidly took me a little while to realise that doesn’t have to be the case; we weren’t fenced in or anything. The whole of County Cork was outside the door of the venue. On the way into town earlier that evening, a small rural pub caught my eye and I’m glad it did. Straight in at number 8 in my top 10 Irish pubs of all time – Inniscarra Bar. No television, radio or muzak, but they do have good conversation, vintage Cork GAA pictures, a deck of cards on the mantelpiece over the turf fire and an overly friendly sheepdog called Sheeba. Took a spin out the road to Blarney the next morning to see if kissing the stone a second time would actually shut me up for a bit and to enjoy watching the auld lad feeling up the female tourists as they hang out to kiss the slobbery stone. They were charging €12 for the privilege which seemed a bit steep to me, but at least the Gathering Geansaí were on special offer in Ireland’s biggest gift shop (that’s what the sign said folks).
A bit discommoded and disenfranchised with Disneyland for displaced danny-boyed day-trippers, the controls were reset for Kinsale. I was hoping for a decent scone and a cup of tea to get the taste out of my mouth. I wasn’t disappointed. Probably one of the most affluent fishing villages in the country, this playground for the deck shoed sailing fraternity has been boasting about being Ireland’s culinary capital for years. A slice of carrot cake and goof in a book shop/café did the trick to settle the nerves back to Sunday afternoon settings. I’d been lucky enough to be in town on a couple of occasions for the Arts Festival and there was one particularly memorable gig out on the cliffs at Charles Fort. A couple of miles outside of town, this fort is not just and amazing site to visit in it’s own right, the views over Kinsale harbour and beyond are breathtaking. It was only €4 to get in here for a gander, which when you include the tea and cake in town is still cheaper than the herpes riddled rock. Just sayin’.
The view from Charles Fort over Kinsale Harbour – Not a load of old Blarney
This post has a moral, which is odd seeing as I seem to have a shortage of the things. Charles Fort is run by the OPW (Office of Public Works) and is one of a whole string of sites around the country that I’ve popped into while on the festival trail. The OPW have heritage cards that cost less than the price of two adults entry fee into Blarney (the card is €21) and with one of these cards you can get into all the OPW Heritage Sites around the country for free for the whole year. Valentine’s Day is this week and rather than shelling out for an over priced card with a soulless poem on the inside that will eventually end up in the bin, would it be worth getting your significant other/your Mam/your Uncle Tommy or even yourself a heritage card? If your relationship falls apart as a result, you can always cry by the picturesque gravesides of Clonmacnoise. Check this site for more details – OPW Site
Safe Travels, Don’t Die.