Here’s a walk through a his­tory of Ir­ish fes­ti­vals, from mass and Feile to the Beat on the Street

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Modern mu­sic fes­ti­vals are a rite of pas­sage, an im­por­tant tran­si­tional pe­riod when grow­ing 40-year-olds leave their tod­dlers with an el­derly par­ent so that they can re­alise, in a safe en­vi­ron­ment, that they don’t like new bands, hate be­ing out­doors and find young peo­ple up­set­ting.

In or­der to ease these peo­ple into mid­dle age, fes­ti­vals are now de­signed to re­sem­ble a broad­sheet week­end sup­ple­ment, crammed with ar­ti­sanal food and pop­u­lar colum­nists giv­ing talks about elec­toral re­form.

It wasn’t al­ways thus. Over the cen­turies there have been many in­ter­est­ing fes­ti­vals and proto-fes­ti­vals at home and abroad – all with very dif­fer­ent agen­das. I have gath­ered the more no­table ones here for ed­u­ca­tional pur­poses.

1 The Eucharis­tic Congress, Dublin 1932:

Okay, who likes mass? Well, what about a re­ally big mass fea­tur­ing Count John McCor­mack singing all his best bangers in the Phoenix Park fol­lowed by a fleet of ocean lin­ers dock­ing in the Lif­fey and the bless­ing of 500,000 peo­ple on O’Con­nell Street by Le­go­las (ed­i­tor’s note: I think you mean the Pa­pal Le­gate)? I had you at “mass”, didn’t I?

2 The Web Sum­mit:

I went to this a few years ago be­cause I read in Wired Mag­a­zine that tech com­pa­nies were the new rock’n’roll. How­ever, as I stood in the au­di­to­rium try­ing to “air code” as a Sil­i­con Val­ley bil­lion­aire dis­cussed how to best dis­man­tle the so­cial wel­fare sys­tem and jail the poor, it oc­curred to me that this was, in fact, a load of neo-lib­eral bol­locks. Sadly, I had al­ready in­vested all my money in a com­pany that said it was the “Twit­ter for cats” and so had to in­tern my way to free­dom much like the pro­tag­o­nist of Robert Louis Steven­son’s Kid­napped.

3 Drink­ing a flagon of Bul­mers in a ditch, Kil­dare 1992:

This was my first ex­pe­ri­ence of “fes­ti­val” life and it’s also surely ev­i­dence of an idyl­lic ru­ral child­hood ( Cider with Rosie by Lau­rie Lee was writ­ten, I be­lieve, on a sim­i­lar theme). Com­pared to modern fes­ti­vals it was a lit­tle prim­i­tive. The sound sys­tem was a drunk friend croon­ing a Stone Roses song from the ditch next door and the ca­ter­ing was a cold bat­ter-burger crammed in the pocket of my army jacket. It was still bet­ter than Oxy­gen.

4 Daniel O’Con­nell’s Mon­ster Meet­ings:

I don’t re­ally need to re­search this one be­cause I can so well re­call my grand­fa­ther singing tra­di­tional songs about these im­por­tant and very well-at­tended events. “It was the mash, it was a mon­ster mash,” he would croon nasally, a finger in his ear. “It was the mash, it was a grave­yard smash,” he would add with spooky pa­tri­otic glee. What with the line-up of ghouls and fiends re­counted in the song it’s no sur­prise “The Great Lib­er­a­tor” achieved catholic eman­ci­pa­tion.

5 Feiles 1 to 5:

See Drink­ing a flagon of Bul­mers in a ditch, but with added The Stun­ning, Transvi­sion Vamp, Meat Loaf and lay­ing waste to the town of Thurles, which no one has seen since.

6 The Pope’s Visit:

My mem­ory of this event is that Se­same Street wasn’t on due to the tele­vi­sion cov­er­age and I was quite dis­ap­pointed. About 2.5 mil­lion peo­ple went out to see the in­fal­li­ble fel­low (Note to self: pitch Fall Guy spin-off called In­fal­li­ble Fel­low about a Pope turned stunt­man). He stuck to his great­est hit (mass) and his warm-up acts were Fr Michael Cleary and Bishop Ea­mon Casey, a wacky club duo who re­ally, re­ally hated con­doms and went on to demon­strate this in their per­sonal lives.

7 The Sum­merisle fes­ti­val:

An is­land gath­er­ing of an­i­mal-masked folk-mu­sic en­thu­si­asts and wicker crafts­men. Highly rec­om­mended for non-vir­ginal folk from the main­land who are re­laxed and in­cu­ri­ous about lo­cal dis­ap­pear­ances.

8 The Beat on the Street:

In the 1980s, a State-funded lorry would some­times come to our town. All the young peo­ple would be rounded up, much like in The Hunger Games, and they were made to dance to the playlist of the ter­ri­fy­ing Elec­tric Ed­die. He wore a white jumpsuit with loads of zips. The young peo­ple wore mas­sive jeans. This story is of­ten dis­missed as an old folk tale, but I swear to you it hap­pened. The Beat on the Street is what we had in­stead of YouTube and Omega 3. (Now sleep chil­dren, and to­mor­row I will tell of Mur­phy’s Mi­cro Quiz-M).

9 The Fianna Fáil tent at the Gal­way Races:

This is what used to be called a “bou­tique fes­ti­val”. Each year, tax-ef­fi­cient “wealth cre­ators” ate roast swan and dodo eggs while rid­ing politi­cians like don­keys and get­ting bits of the sea re­zoned for hous­ing. It was ba­si­cally Ire­land’s an­swer to Bo­hemian Grove (a US in­sti­tu­tion where mil­lion­aires wor­ship a big owl) and was ul­ti­mately re­placed by the Mind­field arena at Elec­tric Pic­nic.

10 The sec­ond sum­mer of love:

I’m not hugely qual­i­fied to dis­cuss the il­le­gal rave scene of the late 1980s/ early 1990s. I was only ever at one rave in my life. I felt the mu­sic was too loud and I was over­come by the smell of Vicks vapour rub. Af­ter whin­ing about this for a while, I ac­cepted a headache tablet from a man I took to be a po­lice­man be­cause he kept blow­ing a whis­tle (“He sure is spot­ting a lot of crimes,” I thought).

I was, shortly af­ter­wards, filled with a sense of love and em­pa­thy for ev­ery­one and every­thing in the cos­mos. This was hor­ri­ble and I vowed there and then that I would never feel any­thing like that again. The next day I be­came a jour­nal­ist.

The Pope stuck to his great­est hit (mass) and his warm-up act were Fr Michael Cleary and Bishop Ea­mon Casey, a wacky club duo who re­ally, re­ally hated con­doms and went on to demon­strate this in their per­sonal lives

Mas­sive gig: Pope John Paul II in Dublin in 1979

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