High spirits and wackiness abound at the inaugural Flatlake Festival

"Monaghan is a dangerous place if you're cheeky," writer Patrick McCabe warned the audience at this year's inaugural Flatlake…

"Monaghan is a dangerous place if you're cheeky," writer Patrick McCabe warned the audience at this year's inaugural Flatlake Festival, a brilliant mixture of comedy, music, readings and plenty of general wackiness.

McCabe spent most of the weekend in his Radio Butty booth which was covered in ancient news clippings, comics, records, old-style phone books and 1940s adverts for soap and false teeth.

With his long grey beard, and dressed in a suit and hat, McCabe broadcast Radio Butty throughout the festival with country tunes, made-up excerpts from Fair City, and songs like A Mother's Love is a Blessing.

Decorated by McCabe and his wife, the artist Margot Quinn, the Radio Butty booth was just one of the many creative touches that made for a unique event on the spectacular grounds of Hilton Park in Co Monaghan.


The Butty Barn played host to the main performances such as Eoin MacNamee, a powerful reading from Claire Keegan, discussions with Neil Jordan and Stephen Rea, while there was film, theatre and live music in marquees around the estate.

In the Post-Lounge Tent of Sentimentalism there was poetry about Osama bin Laden mowing the lawn, a musical performance with a Hoover and some gurgling vocals, and a wide - often bizarre - range of acts in the X-Tractor Talent Competition.

In the afternoon people sat in the sun - and the odd light shower - with their pints eating burgers or chicken korma, with Aidan Coleman's one-man band bellowing out Nessun Dorma and operatic covers of Led Zeppelin.

A man wandered through the crowds pushing a harmonium, the tinkling sound like an old jewellery box drifting out over the old abandoned tractors and a pig roasting on a spit.

There was charcoal and painting workshops for children, while two well-dressed ushers kept company with those queuing at the 15-second film booth.

There wasn't an inch of space on the bales of hay in the Butty Barn for the inaugural Flatlake Interview of Eugene McCabe by Colm Tóibín. The stage, decorated like a cosy sitting-room with two armchairs, a lamp and faded family portraits, made the perfect setting for this stimulating literary interview with a "master of the vernacular".

Tóibín asked McCabe about his early writing life, working on The Riordans TV show and one of his most admired works Death and Nightingales.

Liquorice Allsorts were aplenty at the book launch of Bertie Basset and the Swinging Drumlins, a collaboration between childhood buddies John Mallon, the artist, and Pat McCabe, which took place at a blazing bonfire in the lower field.

One of the great successes of the Flatlake Festival was its ability to move away from the usual arts and literary audience and attract all ages - from toddlers running around in their bare feet, the 10-year-olds who heckled poet Patrick Conyngham, the teens playing rock in the talent contest and all ages beyond.

Later in the evening Pat McCabe sang a few tunes on guitar, the roast pig was served up and people sat around the bonfire, the moon hovering over the glassy lake and the rows and rows of poplar trees.

Sorcha Hamilton

Sorcha Hamilton

Sorcha Hamilton is an Irish Times journalist