Last month I promised to write an article about the various festivals which take place all over Ireland from late Spring through late summer. Mind you, this is neither an exhaustive nor complete list. For such a small island, Ireland is bustling with entertainment at all times of the year. Visitors and locals alike will find everything from traditional music sessions (for example the Fleadh Ceoil), literary events (think “Listowel Writers Week”) to live theatre (“Dublin Fringe Festival,” “Galway International Arts Festival,” “Dublin Theatre Festival”), to Blues festivals (“Rory Gallagher International Festival, Donegal, Monaghan Blues Festival, Bluesfest Dublin).
There will be more of a choice in the bigger cities, but festivals and weekend events take place in every corner of Ireland from Derry to Dingle and Donegal to Dublin. When planning a trip to Ireland, the visitor would be well advised to do their homework beforehand, as it is quite frustrating to discover that a band or musician you waited years to see, is playing at a venue the day you are leaving the Island! In this run-down of festivals which I attended around Ireland (and Spain!) this summer, I will also give inside information and tips on how to best enjoy your time at the various gatherings.
I will begin with one of the biggest weekend festivals in Ireland – the Electric Picnic. The E.P. draws a crowd in excess of 50,000 (2018 figures are estimated at 52,000) and has been a yearly event since 2008. It occurs the first weekend of September and this year it was held from 31st August – 2 September 2018. If you intend going, do not delay purchasing your ticket(s) as they will sell out well before the event. It is held in Stradbally, Co Laois and if taking public transport, the train or Bus Eireann to Portlaoise would be the best route. The site is 12km away, but there is a shuttle service going to and fro. Probably 99.9% of festival attendees either pitch a tent or bring a caravan in which to sleep. There are various places onsite to purchase food & alcohol and the choice is surprisingly good, considering that more than fifty thousand people are coming together at the same time.
If you are going alone, or as a couple, you will most probably get to see a huge number of musical acts. If you are in a group, as I was myself this year, you will most likely not get to experience as many acts since you will be quite busy catching up with friends and partying in your space – especially if a few of you are located next to each other. Having said that, I together with family members and friends saw a number of bands and acts including, but not limited to; Massive Attack, The Prodigy, The Shane McGowan Tribute band (Shane himself came to see them in 2017), Thatchers of the Acropolis (one of the founding members of “TOTA” will be the subject of a forthcoming artist interview on this blog – stay posted!) and many more.
On the whole, festival goers are a very friendly bunch and everybody is there for a good time. The other great thing is that all ages mix together as one. There are so many different areas and different themes that I would safely say that it is impossible to see everything in one weekend. Another area which is quite the eye-opener is the “Trailer Park.” In this section, performers let their imaginations run wild and create all kinds of visual stimulations. I had the great fortune to be involved first-hand as my sister and brother-in-law are the creators of the “Narnia Experience” and have been performing at the festival for the past three years. It is thrilling to see hundreds (more than a thousand over the course of the weekend) visit their exhibit and leave with such an incredulous look on their faces!
Somewhat similar to the Electric Picnic, but on a much smaller scale is the “Body and Soul Festival” which occurs the third week of June (summer solstice) each year. This summer approx. 15,000 attended. It is also a camping event. It is a bit more laid back than the E-Picnic, with a lot of smaller events scattered around in the woods of County West Meath. Attendees will find it more relaxing, but with plenty of acts and big name draws to make it an unforgettable experience.
A few days after returning from The Picnic, I was able to experience the Dublin Fringe Festival which ran from September 8th to the 23rd. The main theme of the festival is comedy and the city is a hive of comedic activity during these two weeks. Live theatre events run from one-man/woman plays to a few different actors (I even attended a play in which a Gorilla was one of the main characters). The plays usually run from an hour to ninety minutes and do not have any scene changes. The settings are usually fairly intimate with seating from fifty to one hundred and fifty persons. One interesting “event” I witnessed was the normally sombre statues along O’Connell street all adorned in quite ridiculous headwear during the festival. Apparently one of the artists was responsible for making the hats and climbing up the statues to place them on the poor fellows’ heads!
The final festival I managed to squeeze into the hectic three week period was a music extravaganza which did not occur in Ireland at all but in La Zenia, Spain! Thanks to my good friend and co-author from Belfast, Greg Mc Vicker, I discovered that an Irish Rock Legend had his own Festival in Spain, which led me to travel there on the 14th of September to spend three nights at “Pat Fest,” in the Alicante area. The Pat McManus Band from Derrylin, County Fermanagh, have been appearing at “Paddy’s Point” in La Zenia for the past several years and have been playing to a packed audience who travel from all over Ireland and mainland Europe to hear these music virtuosos. If you are visiting Ireland first, you don’t need to book your flight to Spain at the same time. There are plenty of daily flights to Spain from Ireland and you may decide to see more of the country, so you can easily work on the trip once in Ireland.
Pat McManus (a.k.a. “The Professor”) is the former founder of the famous “Mamas Boys” of the 70’s and 80’s. Pat and his three brothers; John and Tommy, toured the world back in those days playing with some of the biggest names in music history such as; Horslips, Black Sabbath, Scorpion, Thin Lizzy and others. Pat himself, is an all-Ireland Fleadh Ceoil fiddle champion and one of the best blues/rock guitarists you are likely to see or hear. PMB is made up of Pat McManus, Marty McDermot on bass and Paul Faloon on drums.
Being from Donegal, I have to admit that my favourite song penned by the band has to be the pulse blasting “Last Bus to Bundoran.” Being a blues maestro himself, Pat performs each year at the Rory Gallagher International Blues Festival in Ballyshannon (Rory Gallagher’s birthplace). I laughed when he explained the origins of the song. Since Ballyshannon is “on the map” for being the birthplace of the late Rory Gallagher – considered by many to be one of the top blues musicians in the world (speaking of music festivals, Rory Gallagher’s concert in Macroom, Co. Cork was my very first concert as a Donegal teenager in 1978), it had been “suggested” to Pat by one of the organizers from neighbouring Bundoran that if he was going to write a song about the festival, he had better be sure to mention Bundoran!
Without a shadow of a doubt, I can state that the three nights I spent in La Zenia rocking out with fans from all over Europe, to the exhilarating sounds of the PMB were so worth only getting ten hours sleep for the entire weekend! The next time I get to cover this incredible band will not be in Spain, as I can guarantee you readers that I have no intention of waiting another twelve months to replenish my soul with pure musical genius.
The plan I am working on for next year is to attend The Rory Gallagher International Blues festival in Ballyshannon, Body and Soul, The Electric Picnic, Stendhal Festival in Derry and of course the Pat McManus band in La Zenia, Spain – but at least one to two other PMB events before then – anywhere from Belfast to Beijing ( but hopefully closer to Belfast!).
Please feel free to write to me and comment if you have any questions regarding any of the places/events I have mentioned. Also, keep an eye out here for a forthcoming interview I will have with one of the founders of a new Irish Band – “Thatchers of the Acropolis.”
Slan agus Beannacht!