Festival Fit: Turning the dial at the Dublin Bay Prawn Festival

A smorgasbord of shellfish was on display at Dublin Bay Prawn festival in Howth, but I was happy as a clam in a roomful of old radios

 

In Co Kerry they hoist a crowned goat above Killorglin, and for three days he becomes king o’ the town, doing as good a job as any Healy-Rae. In the leafy suburbs of north Dublin they have a similar tradition. Here the prawn is held aloft and Howth enjoys a period of langoustine lionisation. The Dublin Bay prawn is a crustacean with class, an arthropod that’s more svelte lobster than shrimp. You’ll never find this fella in a scruffy auld prawn-pot; he’s more partial to a well-heeled creel, something befitting his postcode.

The first year I attended Dublin Bay Prawn Festival I overheard a local make a startled exclamation to one of the shellfish slingers: “This is actually working, isn’t it?” It’s still working. Thousands of people pass through the large pierside marquee, grazing on scrumptious seafood as they go. I’d fasted before hitting Howth, in order to guiltlessly fill my boots with tasty quayside morsels. Prawn curry, prawn chowder, prawn pancakes, prawn tacos, prawn paella, prawn balls (who knew?), prawn pasta, prawn salad and just plain old prawns were all sizzling away nicely, putting olfactories on overtime. As busy as the prawn peddlers were, the craft beer hawkers were up the walls. The place was hoppin’.

The prawn festival highlighted a worrying kink in my festival psyche. This was a perfectly good shindig, and not only was I working on a prawn and porter pot-belly, I was knee-deep in molluscs, martinis, music and merriment. Yet still I felt the need to scuttle off to a secluded hill, where, in a dark, dank corner of an ancient Napoleonic fortress, I found something that sparked my pleasure nodes more than the hoopla in the harbour.


RADIO DAZE
Howth’s Martello tower is home to the wonderfully atmospheric Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio. The walls here are lined with ancient wireless sets, reminiscent of days when people would travel for miles to gather round the nearest device to hear Michael O’Hehir paint pictures with words on summer afternoons: “. . . and Tom Cheasty breaks through, with Kilkenny defenders falling around him like dying wasps.”

Waterford hurling glory and gigantic radios in art-deco teak cabinets are a rare breed now, but, as luck would have it, this was International Marconi Day.

In a dimly-lit corner of the room sat Tony, intently looking off into the middle distance and listening to a series of electronic dits and dahs floating in from overseas. Occasionally he responded by tapping out some rhythms of his own on the morse code keyer, all the while maintaining the attention of a wary doe who’s just popped her head up from grazing, ready to leg it if she hears so much as a hedgehog stubbing its toe.

Only last week, after Record Store Day, a mate and I debated dying media, the lure of nostalgia, vintage chic peak and the folly of rendering digitally recorded, mixed and mastered sounds onto an analogue format. All that rhetoric was made redundant by Tony tapping out his beats. Thankfully, some things are impervious to trends and technology, and blessed be the nerds who keep these fires brightly burning.

That same kink is rearing its head again this weekend. I’ll be at Vantastival in Co Louth, and there’s no way I’m missing Barrence Whitfield & The Savages at Kilkenny Roots Festival, but old habits die hard and on a bank-holiday weekend with over 40 festivals happening on our island, I can’t resist hitting a third. It should be Tinariwen at Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast, or Duke Special playing at the atmospheric Islander Festival in the middle of Lough Erne, or even Marius Neset at Bray Jazz. But no, I’m going to a GAA pitch in Co Monaghan to witness Declan Nerney play at Inniskeen Countryfest. Would you believe me if I told you it was a form of anthropological study?

Safe travels, don’t die.


ayearoffestivalsinireland.com

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