It’s a knock
The best new Irish bands, lakeside views and not a corporate sponsor in sight. Knockanstockan is a long way from Oxegen, writes Lauren Murphy
AS RURAL Irish villages go, Ballyknockan is pretty nondescript. Known primarily for the granite quarry that dominates the Wicklow skyline as you approach from the north, it’s a stop-off picnic point for the countless coaches ferrying tourists around the Blessington Lakes area. But for one weekend every July, an area of farmland between the hamlet and its neighbouring village Lacken is taken over by scores of bands, a generous serving of catering trucks, tens of campervans and a couple of thousand music fans. That’s when independent festival Knockanstockan rolls into town. This year marks the festival’s fifth anniversary, something of a milestone for an event that still exists without any corporate sponsorship. Co-founder Peter Keogh can’t help but proudly grin as he surveys the small kingdom he calls his own for three days every summer. The Dubliner relishes pointing out where each of the stages will go as we traverse barbed wire fences, marshy streams and rusted gates to reach the festival’s new Faerie Field chillout area, a dip in the land, ringed with hawthorn trees and dotted with bemusedlooking sheep (which will be removed before festival-goers move in next week,
we’re assured). There’s no doubt that it’s an area of supreme natural beauty, bordered by a heather-clad mountain on one side and the glittering waters of the Poulaphouca Reservoir on the other.
“I was in a covers band at the time, and we were doing a gig here at the local tractor festival,” says Keogh, sitting on a bench outside the sunny Ballyknockan Inn, where the first Knockanstockan festival was held in 2007. “After playing the gig and looking out at the lake, we thought ‘This would be a great spot to put on a festival.’ And so Keogh and his friends decided to transplant the group of bands they’d come to know via their Primal Jelly Social Club gig nights in Dublin to a rural community for a three-day music and performance arts binge.“We’re musicians ourselves, not businessmen, so we wanted to create a festival that would focus on celebrating Irish music without the sole objective of making money.”
The inaugural festival proved so successful that 2008 saw Knockanstockan move a short distance down the road to its current home. The land is used for grazing cattle and sheep by farmer Phillip Gallagher for most of the year, and also hosts a small activity centre to augment its income. “We camped in his top field in 2007 when the festival was here at the Ballyknockan Inn, and we basically took it from there,” explains Keogh.
“He’s delighted to have things like Knockanstockan on his land. As he was telling me before, the farming isn’t doing as well as it used to. In order for him to keep his land going, he needs to have the activity centre and stuff like the festival to develop his site.”
“The work he’s done over the last few years for us, with the barn [where the gear is stored beside freshly sheared sheep’s wool] and the new veranda [also known as