Drop Everything throws a party like no other on Inisheer
The Aran island culture festival blends its seamless mix of art and talks, food and music with the idyllic landscape
New York queer hip-hop artist Zebra Katz at the Halla Scoile. Photograph: Doreen Kilfeather
Mr Silla at Áras Éanna. Photograph: Doreen Kilfeather
The sauna by Emmett McNamara. Photograph: Sharon Greene
Brunch by the Fumbally cafe. Photograph: Conor Horgan
It’s Friday evening at Drop Everything on Inisheer, and Anne Marshall is staring into the setting sun. About 300 people are gathered at Áras Éanna arts centre as documentary maker Vivienne Dick officially opens this cultural biennial. The only distraction is someone falling through a chair, and the spectacular scenery.
Marshall explains that at sunset, if the weather is right, you can see a strange green flare for just a moment. (It’s a phenomenon known as green flash, first photographed by a Fr DKJ O’Connell in the Vatican Observatory in 1960.)
She has seen it once before, at her home in Connemara, so while Dick does the introductions we watch the sun rapidly disappear past the outline of what seems to be a castle in the distance. There’s no green flare this evening, but there will be more chances to come.
Drop Everything is now in its third year. This mixture of art and talks, food and music, culture and parties, organised by Mary Nally and her team, has developed a loyal following. It takes over the island so that, on this gloriously sunny weekend, every pocket seems to be hosting an arty session.
Berlin clothing company Starstyling has set up a shop, selling clothing, some of which has been specially designed for the festival. Excellent cocktails are being made, and a queue forms fast for delicious flatbreads with a colourful array of toppings and ingredients, being served by a team from Ard Bia.
Inside, Maria Lax’s installation of photographs, and music by Kowalski, is strange and beautiful. Outside, the crowd is led on a walk across stretched bubble wrap, in an interesting bit of installation art that asks us to consider the people who have walked before us. But like almost everything at Drop Everything, it’s also lots of fun, with thousands of small explosions drumming the evening air.
Dolphins and a whale
Inisheer is the smallest of the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway. Some would say it’s the prettiest, and in the sunshine, which at this year’s festival never stops shining, it is hard to argue with that. The screams from those in the bracingly cold water become even louder when a dolphin joins in, just metres from the shore. It’s not even the most spectacular sighting of the weekend. Near one of the Friday boat crossings, a whale, probably a minke, breaches several times and gives the passengers one of the thrills of their lives.
That night the Halla Scoile is booming. Zebra Katz is a queer hip-hop artist from New York, who here works a stage with Dublin rapper Mythic Grim.
The party swings up the road to Tigh Ruairí, and then afterwards back down to the beach, where two temporary structures have taken shape. Architecture student Emmett McNamara and his team have built a narrow twisting tower that seems to be entirely made of triangles. Four people can comfortably fit in this sauna while looking at the sea, before they hop out and make a break for the water.
Behind it, a large pink dome built by McNamara, with John Leo Gillen, Dylan Kerr, Donal Talbot and Anja Mae, is packed with people dancing around a speaker, which is held aloft in turns. It is not a party that ends early.
Most people end up back on the beach in the glorious sunshine of Saturday, or explore the island on rented bikes. On the trundle to see the wreck of the Plassey, made famous by the opening sequence of Father Ted, are two main pit stops. Artist Chris Lunney has filled the indoor handball alley with sound and light. An eerie mix of Donna Summer’s vocal from I Feel Love opens a show of slowly shifting colour that forms horizon lines and digitally mapped points and shapes.
It’s definitely best viewed while lying blissfully on the wooden floor and recovering from the bike ride/Friday night. There’s also the climb up the hill to the island’s sunken church of St Caomhán. It’s ringed by a graveyard and the shifting sands, which have to be dug out of the circa 10th century ruin each year.
Most also head to Teach an Tae, where Katie Sanderson of Dillisk and the Fumbally is selling freshly grilled fish. At night, Ménage à Trois open for Mr Silla, in what is one of the weekend’s musical highlights. The Icelandic artist plays a gorgeous, emotional set of electro music, with her “husband man” Tyler Ludwick, that has half the audience shedding a tear. From there most of the crowd moves to the island’s old port, via a clamber across the karst landscape, with its grike cracks that split all the way down to the water.
White Collar Boy are just finishing a cracking set of electronica, and there’s another chance to see that elusive green flare. From there it’s back to the Óstán for another session of tunes and dancing on tables. In the distance, the sauna is transformed with projection mapping by Dublin-based designer Yomagick.
On Sunday morning the Fumbally cafe people are cooking brunch on the rocks, and Risteard Ó Domhnaill’s powerful film Atlantic is being screened in Áras Éanna. A large crowd head out to the Plassey for a spoken-word performance assembled by director Dave Tynan. Islander MacDara Ó Conaola sings gorgeous tunes in Irish, with just the thrum of his bodhrán for company, and his father, Dara, reads some of his work. Sarah Maria Griffin reads a brilliant, bright story about an island that travels to the big city to work but can’t quite forget the mainland and sea she left behind. Dave Rudden tells a touching story about a crannóg, then brightens everything back up with a hilarious one, and Erin Fornoff performs a fascinating piece about the islands off North Carolina.
Roared from a rock
To close the afternoon, Emmet Kirwan does two pieces from his play Dublin Oldschool, which sound just as urgent when roared from a rock as on a stage. He also reads a piece for a new work, Riot, that imagines a single mother and the choices and fierceness she has to muster to make it through the day. A team hands out delicious crab soup and hunks of bread, while people cool their feet in rock pools. It’s an idyllic afternoon of storytelling that seems effortless in its execution but is anything but casual, in the most extraordinary setting of a rusting hulk and rocks.
After that, it’s Tigh Ned for a closing party outside, from Galway club Alice, that only slows temporarily when most people head to catch the final sunset of the festival; Anne Marshall is there, delighted with life and looking for her flare. Back in the garden, the special guests are German-Dutch duo Steffi and Virginia, although Micheál Ó hAlúin almost steals the show when he joins in on tin whistle over their excellent set of house music.