The festivals go by in twos and threes
An Irishman’s Diary about the crowded literary event calendar
‘You can see why they picked Kells: the town’s association with books – or one book, anyway – is world-famous. Yet given the plethora of festivals at this time of year, I hope they haven’t made a tactical error with this one.’ Above, at the launch of the Hay Festival Kells: Lynde Cooke, Hay Festival producer, Patrick Prendergast, Provist Trinity College Dublin and Geraldine Gaughran, director, the Hay Festival Kells. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
‘Inniskeen Road July Evening” has long been a well-loved poem. It has also been a summer festival waiting to happen. The only mystery is why somebody in Monaghan didn’t think of it sooner. In any case, the inaugural staging takes place next month and will feature many of the things mentioned in Kavanagh’s text, including bicycles, dancing, and the original Billy Brennan’s Barn.
There will, however, be one notable departure from the poem, in that the events won’t be confined to a single evening. Yes, that well-known Irish phenomenon – festival inflation – has already set in. Thus the first Inniskeen Road July Evening will in fact be a weekend, July 12th-14th. If it proves popular enough, and following the lead of events like Bloomsday, the organisers may eventually be able to drop the “evening” reference and rebrand the festival as “Inniskeen Road July”.
It is unusual, as I say, that the poem went untapped so long. In the crowded Irish literary event calendar, most such opportunities have already been spotted. Racking my memory of school poetry, for example, it struck me that there might still be an opening for a Fiddler of Dooney Festival, even though I had to Google it to find out where the place was. I learned that Dooney Rock is in Sligo. But in the process, I was reminded that there has been an annual Fiddler of Dooney competition, if not a festival, on and off since 1965. Now it’s part of a larger roots music celebration, Sligo Live, in October. Which noted, I think a separate Dooney Rock Festival might still be viable.
There are, I suppose, one or two literary events that, although obvious, will never happen. Or perhaps I’m unduly pessimistic. Maybe somebody in the Westmeath village of Delvin will prove me wrong one of these days and organise a Valley of the Squinting Windows weekend, which might be the ultimate challenge.
It could also be fun, with events ranging from serious discussions about the work of Brinsley MacNamara to, say, a competition for the village’s best lace curtains. But even though Delvin wasn’t mentioned by name in the book – and the fictionalised “Garradrimna” was supposed to stand for any Irish village – I suspect local sensitivities might still be too raw.
You could have fun too with a “Waiting for Godot” weekend in Foxrock. I envisage a two-day festival in which, as a critic said of the play, “nothing happens twice”. And in fact there is a useful precedent, minus the Beckett theme, in London: the annual “Boring Conference”.
Last year’s instalment included lectures on the Shipping Forecast and the history of self-service check-outs (title: “Unexpected Item in the Bagging Area“), as well as one by a woman whose hobby was photographing cash registers. There was even a “Boring Buffet”: including undressed lettuce, cucumber chunks on cocktail sticks, dry cream crackers, and tap water. Yet the event proved very popular. That’s those wacky English for you.
The wacky Welsh, I note, are already exporting their event formats. Hence this weekend’s Hay Festival Kells: one of 15 global outreach projects that now remake the original Hay, while the sun shines or otherwise. You can see why they picked Kells: the town’s association with books – or one book, anyway – is world-famous. Yet given the plethora of festivals at this time of year, I hope they haven’t made a tactical error with this one.
My concern would be its proximity, geographic and chronological, to the actual Hay-Making Festival, held earlier this month in Trim. I know their themes are very different. But as Wilde might have said, two Hay-themed happenings in June in Meath seems like carelessness. If some confused vintage-tractor drivers turn up in Kells this weekend, I won’t be surprised.
Getting back to books, Finnegans Wake has always seemed to me a festival theme in waiting. Three days and nights of carousing. Bring your own snuff, etc. So it’s a little disappointing that the Dublin suburb in which the book is set opted for a more conservative approach with its annual Chapelizod Community Festival, now under way.
The local Joyceans had the right idea, however. The festival’s events include a Literary Pub Crawl that starts this afternoon in Mullingar House and, after a walk in the Phoenix Park, ends in another local inn this evening with “hot punches”. It’s to be hoped that the punches involved are of the drinkable rather than violent kind, although of course both have been known to feature at Irish wakes.