Mopo from Helsinki making their way to 12 Points Jazz
Three festivals every week for a year. Mark Grahamswaps the combie for shank’s mare
IT’S a topic that people on high stools have argued about for more years than there have been Healy-Raes in Kerry: when exactly does spring get sprung? Most of the rest of our civilised hemisphere wait until mid-March to bust out the Mr Sheen and pastel-coloured underwear, but our clocks have always ticked to a different tock. St Brigid’s Day, on February 1st, was the feast day that traditionalists in these parts usually took to signal end of winter – previously a Celtic celebration that was successfully colonised by the Christians. A time to bless bullocks and bang together the boxty while shaping rushes and reeds into talismans to hang inside the door.
It was apt that on St Brigid’s Day the first walking festival of 2013 marched out in the Glen of Aherlow. A serendipitous side-effect of my festival travels was a belated discovery of these unsung heroes of the festival calendar.
Many people have been enjoying this pursuit since before Noah put a nail in a plank, but prior to my festival quest the idea of putting the words “walking” and “festival” together made about as much sense to me as associating Brendan O’Connor with entertainment.
I never would have guessed I’d become such a fan – of walking festivals, that is; Brendan O’Connor gives me blisters on my eyes.
WALK THIS WAY
A constant source of wonderful surprise is that our small country has such diversity of landscape. The rich farmland and forests surrounding Aherlow, the alien surface of the Burren, the majestic sweep to the sea from Mount Brandon, the view over Carlingford from the Cooley Mountains or the homely feel of the Comeragh Mountains. Add to this the great people who populate these parties of perambulation and it would make you want to turn mountain goat.
Even when the going is tough and the scenery is obscured by weather, the good-humoured heads you meet often make the trudge worthwhile. During a wet and grey Nire Valley Walking Festival, most of the jaunt was spent in mist and clouds. As we made our descent from the summit, the clouds broke and there was a brief ray of sunshine. The crowd of walkers burst into spontaneous cheers of delight. I bet the sun never gets that kind of welcome in Barbados.
You’ve missed the first one, but do keep an eye out for the rest of them. The next one on my calendar is Dingle Walking Festival, starting on February 15th – don’t say I didn’t warn you.
It might be Brigid’s influence, but this is a pretty good month for festivals of all sorts. The hoopla and hubbub of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival starts next Thursday, but if it’s a bit peace and quiet you’re after, Nenagh Silent Film Festival starts on the same day.
Kicking off in Dublin next Wednesday is the fresh, fizzing and funky 12 Points Jazz Festival. Tedfest will ferry the lunatics to Inis Mór, while there’ll be clowning of a different sort at Belfast Juggling Convention. Corofin, Co Clare will be the choon capital of Ireland at the end of the month, while the Gathering Festival (the crew in Kerry have been calling it that for 14 years before Leo and co pimped it up) will kick up its heels in Killarney a week before that . The wonderful Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh will be passing on traditions in Ballyferriter from next Wednesday.
All this week Waterford New Music Week has been dealing out contemporary choons and you can catch some ambient sounds from miXile in Garter Lane Arts Centre tonight at the launch of Scattering Gathering – not a balanced tourist initiative but an exhibition exploring partings, reunions and sense of place.
So February is a pretty good month to step it out, and tradition dictates we should celebrate. Don’t make St Brigid cross.
Safe travels, don’t die.