Britches full of song as buskers go free


Better than a mere 'town centre', Dundrum in Co Down has the International Busking Festival. Fionnuala O Connor attended

Backcloth of the Mournes blue and graceful, Dundrum's fine bay was at its best on Saturday as a bevy of buskers settled along the main street. The sun gave the star turns of the village's annual festival a chance. By the time the rain hammered down for an intense five minutes, the busking competition was almost judged.

Just as well, since these were not the hard cases of the busking world: no tonsils hardened by experience. The big problem for most was to be heard.

Dundrum as small sister to the gaudy age-old resort of Newcastle is off the map for anyone who busks for a living. But the annual competition offers a top prize of £1,000 (€1,300). Performers arrive for practice, for charities and for the informality of a small place.

One of the youngest, Máirtín Quigley aged 12, from Killyleagh said it was "a bit of fun" for himself and his nine-year- old sister Olivia, the first time they had busked. They sat up against a closed gate and got on with it like troupers, Máirtín knocking out Maggie in the Woods, Britches full of Stitches and a slow air or two on flute and tin whistle, Olivia step-dancing in proper dancer's shoes between accompanying him on concertina and bodhrán. The tin- whistle box filled up slowly with 50p pieces and the odd £1 coin.

James Uhomoibhi played Igbabonelimi dance from Nigeria on the mini-conga drums. An engineering lecturer in the University of Ulster, he is best known as spokesman for the Africa Cultural Centre. Off duty, he still turned out a neat statement: "There should be fun to life. It's nice Dundrum recognises the role of buskers. Anybody should feel free to busk."

An oddly-suited folk group with one Irish dancer hung around the bus shelter in the middle of the street - suits painted white, music and dancer stopped mid-note, the group became statues. "Still Rock," was all they said.

Sarah Lyle, seen at regular gigs in Belfast music bars, Auntie Annie's and the Menagerie, won the £1,000. Máirtín Quigley won the junior section, Michael O'Brien runner-up. Olivia met the common fate of small sisters and didn't get a mention - but Dundrum seemed satisfied with its happy cacophony.