Electric Picnic day one: ‘Will we get an auld tattoo?’

The young people of Ireland and their grandparents have gathered to see the acts of the moment

51,000 festivalgoers descend on Stradbally, Co Laois for Electric Picnic 2017.

 

The bicycles go by in twos and threes; there’s a music festival for 55,000 people in a field in Stradbally this weekend.

Everyone’s circling the area (not on bikes, that was a Kavanagh reference), navigating the endless carparks and the people in high-viz jackets who are often unhelpfully vague (“I’m afraid I know nothing about this ‘music festival’ of which you speak, I’m largely just responsible for this field”).

Yes, once again the young people of Ireland and their grandparents and some of their children (sullen toddler charioteers) have gathered to see the acts of the moment – Duran Duran, 5ive, Pete Tong, The Pretenders, Madness, The Glen Miller Orchestra, Count John McCormack, Pagliacci the Clown.

The youngsters wear facepaint and culturally confusing sombreros and shorts with wellies (a symbol for our meteorologically confused nation?) and say things like (seriously): “Will we get an auld tattoo?”

A seasoned gentleman dressed as a nun buys ice-cream cones: “Bless you my child,” he says to me. He’s with a man dressed like a “lady of the night” and a woman dressed as a schoolgirl. Another friend, in a top hat, explains that they are all “business people and solicitors”. The man’s daughter sighs and says, “Can you imagine being their children?”

The “lady of the night”, whose name is John Hanlon, shows me his “smuggle wagon”, a little cart with a secret compartment containing many bottles of wine and spirits. “Would you like a gin and tonic?” he asks.

Over in the Trailer Park section, Fr Eoghan O’Neill is distributing communion at a mobile church. It has a steeple on top and the words, “Jesus, take the wheel” on the front. He has shorts on and I’m not sure if he’s a real priest. He has a big flip chart featuring a drawing of a laughing baby emerging from an erect penis.

“Because life begins even before conception,” Fr Eoghan explains.

“That looks like it might be offensive to everyone no matter what their religious beliefs,” I note. “I hope so,” says Fr Niall Beagan, who is clutching a golden chalice and wearing sunglasses. They’ll be saying mass on Sunday.

Everywhere I go I see a triangular-shaped man with a tiny straw hat, shorts and a Hawaiian shirt open to reveal his bare chest. He swaggers and struts. He does recreational pull ups. He punches his friends in the shoulder. He’s like a goddamned golden god. I see him everywhere. Once I saw three of him all together. “It’s not the same man, Patrick,” says a colleague. “There are several people dressed like that.”

“Ah, I see what you’re saying,” I say. “You’re saying that he’s a metaphor for ‘Ireland’.”

“That’s not what I’m . . . ”

At My Lovely Ranch, I check out the latest dog fashions (still neckerchiefs) and I pet a three-legged rescue dog called Henry. He’s wearing a jaunty little cowboy hat. It really suits him.

“His owners wanted to put him down so we took him at the farm,” says Martina Kenny, the co-founder of My Lovely Horse Rescue and I start to tear up a little. Henry’s bastard owners – I hope they’re banned from the Picnic.

There are several dogs and donkeys and horses here. They are the good kind of dog, donkey and horse, not the bad ones who bite and swindle old ladies. “Even some of the humans here are rescued,” says Kenny, as a man with a glassy look in his eyes staggers by. “People come in here to escape everything. Though I’m not sure they all remember it.”

There are many different Electric Picnics in one, really. Over at the Global Green eco-village, Ali Knox and Lisa Joyce of the East Clare Community Coop champion sustainable living and bemoan the loudness of the nearby fairground. They have a “sandograph” that’s hanging from a frame swirling and pouring glittery sand on a platform below.

“It’s a model of the galaxy,” says Lisa Joyce. “That’s the Earth there.” She points to a blue-tinged piece of glitter inside the spiral edges of the swirl. “And you can play God,” she adds, putting her hand out to change the trajectory of falling sand.

“Oh no! You’ve messed up the time-space continuum,” says Knox.

Nearby I watch young Caleb Cowman punch his friend Sam O’Sullivan playfully in the stomach. It’s my first sighting of Electric Picnic “horseplay” and I nod with approval. They’re both laughing, though O’Sullivan, it has to be said, is laughing from the ground. It’s basically A Boy Named Sue if the characters in A Boy Named Sue were topless and had nipple piercings and were fans of the band Hudson Taylor.

“Three days rolling around in a field,” gasps O’Sullivan.

“Nothing like it.”

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