Double-act of academia and agriculture provides eclectic fun for all the family


FLAT LAKE FESTIVAL, MONAGHAN:Blues tunes by actors, bingo with a comedian and a ‘Gonzo Zoo’ were on display in some fields and a barn near Clones

THEY SAY you don’t come to the Flat Lake Festival on the grounds of Hilton Park near Clones in Co Monaghan to see who is on stage. The person standing beside you in the audience is the real attraction.

The festival, which has previously attracted the likes of Keith and Lily Allen, Cillian Murphy and Dominic West, was conceived by Kevin Allen and Pat McCabe. It has retained its quirkiness and compactness with a limited number of performance areas and a maximum number of madcap performances.

There’s a strong local flavour to the programme also, from the Castleblaney Choral Choir to The Strypes, a well-liked four-piece beat group from Cavan. This year there were fewer star-studded headline music acts, with perhaps Mundy and Jinx Lennon the exceptions. But some lesser-knowns have become Flat Lake favourites, including Leeds man Mik Artistik and regular Little John Nee.

The literary programme has been beefed up this year, with large turnouts for John Banville, Ulick O’Connor, Paul Murray and Claire Kilroy, as well as standing room only for political debate between Eamonn McCann and Robert Fisk.

Spotted walking the grounds over the weekend was young Irish actor and recent Bafta nominee Robert Sheehan, who took to the stage in the Gonzo Theatre Marquee alongside established Irish actor Aaron Monaghan.

Irish comedian David McSavage, from The Savage Eye, led an afternoon bingo session in the Big Top. “We’re going to have some good Catholic fun,” announced McSavage before a wickedly irreverent hour of entertainment which saw him taking pot shots at everyone, from the Flat Lake festival audience to Gaelic poets and Pat Kenny.

The Gonzo Zoo contained a live exhibit of some local species such as “bar stool republican”, “Irish man abroad”, “boy racer” and the “new Irish male”. All were housed behind large cages, showing off their farmer’s tans, singing republican songs or, in the case of new Irish male, handing out free hair gel and hairspray.

American writer and actor Sam Shepard was seen enjoying the Inish Turk Beg Sessions on Saturday evening. Later that Saturday night, Shepard took to the stage himself, in the Butty Barn, where he jammed with Drogheda-based outfit Slowfoot for several blues numbers. Some sound issues marred an otherwise unique and memorable performance. Late into Saturday night, the west Cork trio of Trilecheile performed world music by the campfire. The trio met at a songwriting workshop in Bantry and this was their first festival outing.

Early indications from organisers were that somewhere in the region of 1,000 tickets for the festival were sold online in advance, and sales at the gate were good. A far higher number of families and children attended this year compared to previous festivals, with a dedicated kids’ area. Some traditional pursuits such as tossing the sheaf, petting farms and free pony rides also proved popular, as a mixture of the academic and the agricultural sought to make this one of Ireland’s most individual annual festivals.