How to do Ballymaloe Litfest for €5 a day
Plan your visit to the food and drink festival carefully and you could be part of the action and meet your literary hero for (almost) zero
On The Fringe: there are lots of free activities at Litfest this weekend, and The Big Shed will be the place to meet, eat and drink, and make merry.
Going to the Ballymaloe Litfest can be a major investment – attending a three-hour cookery demonstration will set you back €100 (including a generous tasting plate of the dishes cooked), and a weekend ticket for the symposium at The Grainstore is €170.
But a general admission ticket for the event, which opens on Friday evening and continues until Sunday (May 19th-21st), costs just €5 (parking included, children under 12 free). And if you plan carefully, you could get to listen to, ask questions of and interact with many of the big names taking part, without further expenditure.
Here is how to have a star-studded weekend at Liftest for only €5 a day, plus your lunch money.
The Garden Tent will be your HQ for the weekend. Familiarise yourself with its slightly hidden away location near the walled garden as soon as you arrive. Bring a cushion or a rug to spread over the straw bales and wooden benches, and above all – get there early for any session you really want to see or take part in. It’s a small space and fills up easily.
It’s the home of Banter for the weekend, and Jim Carroll’s lively discussion and Q&A sessions will feature several of the headliners whose other events sold out yonks ago. Chef’s Table executive producer Brian McGinn is Carroll’s first guest at noon on Saturday.
If you can slip away at 12.30pm, nip over to the pop-up book shop, where you’ll be able to chat to the wonderful Claudia Roden, who will be doing a meet and greet and book signing.
Back in the tent, at 3pm Carroll will be talking to Sheila Dillon, presenter of The Food Programme on BBC Radio 4. John Bowman’s Litfest Food & Wine Questions & Answers follows immediately after and is always popular, so maybe pack a snack and stay put for the afternoon. TV chef Matt Tebbutt, presenter of Saturday Kitchen, talks to Ali Dunworth about his career at 5.30pm.
The Fringe Festival also includes a really varied programme at a new stage in The Big Shed, the festival’s pulse point, where you’ll also go to eat and drink, meet friends, and maybe stay on for a late night session.
This new venue will have something happening right throughout the weekend, including Japanese Food Made Easy with Fiona Uyema, and a knife making demonstration with Fingal Ferguson, at 3.45pm and 4.15pm on Saturday.
Later on Saturday, Aoife McElwain brings her Sing Along Social to The Big Shed, and it’s a Fleetwood Mac versus Abba session, with “caterwauling craic” promised. Even later, McElwain makes room on the stage for her husband, Niall Byrne, or Nialler9, who takes over for a DJ session.
All this, and you’ve only spent a fiver (plus your food and drink expenditure). And it’s the same on Sunday, with an equally varied and extensive fringe festival programme.
Your Sunday Litfest for a fiver programme could start by listening to Dorcas Barry talk about meditation and diet in The Garden Tent at 10am, followed by a visit to the pop-up book shop at 10.30am, where Joanna Blythman will be signing. From there, head to the demo stage in The Big Shed at 11am to learn how to make a perfect omelette with Emma Young in the Ballymaloe Classic Techniques strand.
At noon in The Garden Tent, Jim Carroll will be having the Banter with Michelle Dermody and Ellie Kisyombe as they talk about their Our Table initiative. Athletics star Derval O’Rourke follows with her Fit Foodies presentation.
Sunday’s VIP visitor is European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, and he will be joining the gang on the straw bales for a chat with Carroll at 3pm. His touted discussion points include Europe, Lithuania, heart surgery, the post-Soviet age, food, the future – so it’s fair to say anything goes for this session.
Drop into the GIY area where Cully & Sully invite visitors to learn about composting, test their green fingers, or just loll around in a verdant green oasis. From there, head to The Big Shed again at 3.30pm, for a talk about glasses and decanters with Samuel Chantoiseau, sommelier at Ballymaloe House.
Book signing action on Sunday will also happen at the Cookery School, and if you’re on a mission to meet food hero Claudia Roden, she will be there to meet and greet at 4.30pm. Copies of her books, and all of those taking part in the festival, will also be available to purchase.
Along with all of this for a fiver, there is a family area, with child-centric activities throughout the weekend.
If you’ve another fiver going spare and you’re planning on staying late in The Big Shed, there will be a Midnight Miso on offer both nights (from 11pm). Ivan Whelan’s restorative miso soup will be sold for €5 a bowl, with the proceeds going to a fund to send 16-year-old Aaron McMahon, whose grandmother Nuala is a longtime staff member at Ballymaloe, to Germany for brain cancer treatment.
On Friday at irishtimes.com/food we will have last minute updates on the festival, and a Litfest Survival Guide.