A moment of clarity and free festival beer

Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder


Do you need a tipple or two in order to enjoy a festival fully? In early February, I clambered aboard The Wagon of Sobriety and managed to hold tight until the beginning of this month, when it hit a speed bump in Galway and I fell off with a wallop.

Full throttle festival season is just about to kick off and I wanted to detox and get the body in order to ensure I can milk this year’s offerings dry; lay some solid foundations for building a level of festival fitness that will see me through to the end of autumn. This shit takes dedication, you know?

Two months worth of festivaling without any social lubricant wasn’t just good for the health, it was good for the head. The prolonged abstinence may have also unfortunately awakened some primal Pioneer and Total Abstinence Association gene that the Holy-Spirit planted during my Confirmation. Some tame comments about drunkenness at Irish festivals at a recent discussion left a bitter aftertaste. The phrase “ born-again” comes to mind .

Walking festivals were the first thing that popped into my head when considering festivals that can be fully enjoyed without having to get a dose of Tennent’s elbow. Shindigs of stroll were totally alien to me when I started my festival quest, but I’ve achieved a surprising and deep level of appreciation for the things.

At most of these jaunts, there’ll be a social element that affords participants a chance break bread and wet the whistle. As you walk up a hillside the next day, talk will often be of a great singsong the night before or of the last pint being one too many and sorely felt on the steep morning ascent. But is a jar a prerequisite for enjoying a walking festival? No.

Literary festivals will often have a social side too, but the cheese and wine doesn’t usually get dished out until after sundown. All this month, Dublin City Council are encouraging people to read Strumpet City as part of the One City One Book initiative. There are a clatter of free readings, walks, talks, exhibitions and concerts that don’t require Rashers to rob the altar wine. The literary tour of Glasnevin cemetery as part of this festival was one of my highlights from last year, but admittedly, I did have a pint of stout in the Gravediggers afterwards.

These festivals are not my natural habitat, though. I lean towards festivals where I know sometimes I’ll have a better time if I have a couple of cans and/or a drop of Buckfast. I don’t see this as a problem, it’s just how things are.

I have no business being in the likes of Lisdoonvarna during Matchmaking month and not having a few pints, but yet there are scores of people flocking to the Co Clare town just for the dancing. Lisdoon becomes Mecca for country’n’Irish hot-steppers in September; some venues charge the tee-totaling jivers €1.50 for pints of water to turn a profit.

The likes of Wonderlust at Body and Soul, Leviathan at Electric Picnic and Banter Salon at Other Voices can occasionally feel a bit dry, but there are lots of people for whom these sideshows are a main attraction and they’re often highlights of a weekend. After more than 40 days and 40 nights in the desert, I’m appreciating a return to feckless abandon, but there’s also an amplified thirst for worthwhile experience chasers.

While at Waterford Festival of Food last Saturday, on a bilingual tour that visited an oyster farm in An Rinn and a brewery in Dungarvan, there was a glimmer of clarity. We learned that leannlusanna is the Irish word for hops and it’s direct translation is beer blossom.

A poetic, educational, thirst-quenching, mind-altering and enjoyable moment. That’s balance.

Safe travels, don’t die.