As I went down in the river to play
The festival of Abhainn Rí is as much about reinventing the market town of Callan, a market town in Co Kilkenny, as it is about celebrating the arts
Celebrating community is key, says Lynch. The town’s acclaimed KCAT (Kilkenny Collective for Arts Talent) Equinox Theatre was set up as a studio and learning environment for artists and people with a disability. In 2006, two KCAT artists, Andrew Pike and Sinead Fahy, were commissioned by Macnas to design that year’s Galway Arts Festival parade (The Big River). Pike and Fahy developed the historical story of Callan’s own “abhainn rí” (the King’s River), delivered the message nationwide, and then came back to Callan and staged it again, swirling their way through the town’s streets in a riot of colour and pride.
“That had a big impact on people’s imaginations,” says Lynch, who highlights KCAT’s 10th birthday event in 2009 –“a spectacle in the Abbey meadow” – as another pivotal point in the birth of the Abhainn Rí festival. It was such a community celebration, she recalls, that a sense of a festival by the people for the people was made possible. It also proved that any future events in the town wouldn’t just be passive entities.
Which brings us back once more to the bywords of inclusion and participation.
“The idea of participation in conversations and creativity is essential; the idea that it’s not just a passive consumption of culture and art, but rather there are activities that people can be involved with in the making and conception. If that takes a yearor a day for some things, then fine.
“We’re all really interested in what kind of impact a festival such as this can have on the town, so there’s a good balance of inviting artists of a high standard to perform, and to be able to provide technical proficiency and the hospitality that goes with an event such as this.”
To this end, the festival, which benefits from strong support from local businesses, manages to fuse in situ events such as Equinox Theatre’s world premiere of Memory Box; a visual-art exhibition The Tropics of Callan; lunchtime walking talks and the Workhouse Assembly with visitors such as music acts We Cut Corners and Come On Live Long.
It is crucial, Lynch emphasises, that the festival makes a lasting impression. “We don’t aim for something that arrives for a few days and then leaves. The residual effects from it should be felt throughout the year.”
The Abhainn Rí festival ends tomorrow. abhainnrifestival.com