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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

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

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