Gingerfest offers up a belated red-hair affair


A festival celebrating redheads, and raising money for charity, should be good fun, right? Not so fast, writes ROSITA BOLAND

IT’S Bank Holiday Sunday afternoon in Belturbet, Co Cavan, and I am surrounded by crowds of excitable people outside the Diamond Bar, many of them wearing fluorescent orange wigs (€10), orange T-shirts (€10) and sprayed hair (€2). This is all in aid of the town’s third Gingerfest, which this year is raising funds for the charity Aware. There is due to be a parade of the bewigged ginger ones marching through the town for the charity later in the afternoon. Later again, upstairs in the Diamond Bar, there is to be baked wrestling. A local businessman has donated 100 litres of beans (they’re orange, you see) to the event.

The 5pm parade is running late. Three hours late, as it turns out. Organiser Paddy Brady, resplendent in a ruffled orange velvet shirt, explains that there were weddings in the town the day before and everyone is still recovering. They certainly seem to be enjoying themselves. Every single person I can see is as merry as Robin Hood’s band of terrifically joyous men.

I step in the door of the Diamond, my feet crunching on broken glass, and a pool ball, right on cue – or should that be off cue – tumbles down the stairs and rolls to a stop at my feet. Goodness. They are so excited upstairs about the Ginger Festival that the pool balls are literally flying off the table in the room where the baked wrestling will take place.

Parade, what parade? About 8pm, a man dyed orange and wearing only shorts climbs on to the phone boxes outside the pub and waves a flag. Three more men join him and attempt to take ownership of the flag. If two more come up, it’ll be like a reproduction of the famous photograph of raising the flag at Iwo Jima.

Then they all disappear and a man dressed as Brüno gets up, and someone pulls down Brüno’s shorts to reveal a noticeable fluorescent orange thong and a lot of white backside. This is the most impressive thing I have seen so far: I am impressed none of them have yet fallen off the phone boxes. There is a debate among the crowd as to whether this was the parade or not. Some people say it was and others say not. That’s all I saw, anyway.

A reporter should always be inconspicuous. There I am with my red hair, at Gingerfest. I blend in, right? Unfortunately, I am very conspicuous indeed, as I am the only person in the vicinity not holding a drink. Instead, I have a notebook, which is attracting a lot of attention. “Were you sent here because you’re ginger?” is a question I hear a lot during my memorable time in Belturbet.

One way or another, the “parade” is over, so we all start moving inside for the wrestling. Whoops. I get whacked quite hard on the side of the head by a flying empty can. It could be a beer can, or a can of orange dye. I’m not sure which, since there are so many of both already crushed underfoot. Never mind. It’s all for charity, right? All a bit of summer festival fun, right? Par for the course, when everyone is so plastered, right?

We troop upstairs. The toddlers’ paddling pool now has 100 litres of baked beans in it, plus water and “about 15 bags of flour, because we weren’t expecting the pool to be so big”, confides Brady. In the course of the next hour, roughly 895 people squash into the room, waiting for the baked-bean wrestling action to begin. I exaggerate. There can’t possibly be any more than 890 people in the room.

Soon after 9pm, two men in shorts and orange torsos dive into the baked-bean paddling pool and enthusiastically thrash about for a few minutes to huge cheers. They emerge looking like mutant goldfish crossed with the spawn of the Creature from the Orange Lagoon.

A lot more wrestling is promised, with prizes for the “most stylish wrestlers” but at this point I leave. A young man with a ginger wig is laughingly urinating into the nice planted barrel of colourful flowers right outside Belturbet’s only hotel, the Seven Horseshoes. Into the flowers. Directly outside the hotel entrance. At 9.15pm in full daylight, on the main street. I can only hope someone later stuck him in the baked-bean pool up the road to teach him some manners.