How to have a swell time even when you’re slightly swollen

Mark Grahan samples the City Spectacular, does some island-hopping and goes socialising Shligo Shtyle


There’s a character in the 1980 comedy Airplane! who holds a special place in my heart. Control Tower supervisor Steve McCroskey has a string of epic willpower failures, telling us he picked a bad week to quit smoking/drinking/ amphetamines/sniffing glue.

Standing at Tricksy McGarrigles’s counter during Cairde Arts Festival in Sligo last week, letting the infectious Guadaluopean grooves laid down by Pitak catch hold of me, the rhythms weaved round my ankles, tripping me up, causing me to fall off the wagon, again. Teetotaling on the festival trail ain’t easy, but periodically, it’s sorely needed.

The most recent flurry of festival activity started sober and straight, taking in the tumblers, twirlers and roustabouts strutting their stuff around Merrion Square at Laya Healthcare’s City Spectacular. This family-friendly event goes from strength to strength. The increased capacity for commercial concerns and ceol inside the parks’ fence meant that there was a food area and three performance spaces on the surrounding roads. Having some of the acts on the street felt like we were catching them in their natural habitat.

In among the international sword swallowers and fire starters were local lads Jack Wise and The Lords of Strut, both former winners of the Street Performance World Championships. They’re worth catching if you make it to the second leg of this event in Cork Fitzgerald Park this weekend.

I’ve banged on about Booka Brass Band and Colours Afrobeat Foundation here before, two bands built for festivaling who’ve been moving summer audiences all over the country. It was pretty sweet to catch them in Merrion Square Park for free. Reassuring to see the TK folk in the house handing out free red lemonade to the kids, whipping them into a frenzy. Steve McCroskey would’ve approved of the gateway glug.

A shwell Shligo time At the core of Cairde Arts Festival is Park Fest, a family day out that features music, puppet shows, circus performance, art activities and heaped helpings of family fun. It might lack the glitz and glamour of City Spectacular, but it’s bursting with homeliness, heart and a distinct lack of commercial activity. Tara McGowan and her crew raised €3,500 for this event through a campaign, and the festival continues to exist through support from local businesses and kind Sligicans. This was my second visit to this festival, now in it’s 11th year and I’m looking forward to hitting it again, even if socialising Shligo Shtyle does take a tremendous toll.

Rosses Point was the perfect place for a dip/wash after the excesses of the night before.The saltwater ablutions behind me, it was off to Strandhill to forage for some bricfeasta. Natasha Duffy from Spirit of Folk Festival was on a holiday goof in Strandhill as well, and she mentioned that Swell Festival was happening up on Arranmore off the coast of Donegal. The prospect of loading the Wanderly Wagon onto a festival ferry was too much to resist.

Swell catered for a small crowd of around 500 heads. John Muldowney & co set out to organise a relaxed festival for music lovers in idyllic surroundings. Mission accomplished. Colour//Sound and In Their Thousands rocked the island.

July is the busiest festival month, Galway Arts, Earagail Arts, Bray Air Show, Sneem Family Festival and Cork’s City Spectacular all happen this weekend. Longitude is calling, but Cork Cycling festival is a much better option for me. I need to work on this pulled beer muscle. I’m clambering gingerly back onto the wagon, hoping to hold on tight until August.

This time round I have the added impetus of being almost poisoned by proxy. A warning to all heavily bearded weekend warriors: tequila catches and drips from your tash long after the last lemon has been sucked. Bí cúramach muchachos.

Safe travels, don’t die.

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