Woodstock it was not, but the Trip to Tipp was mighty
and that on the back of a strong British marketing campaign, it was actually luring punters from those traditional fixtures. The main stage was one of the world’s biggest, and fitted with a state-of-the-art traffic light system warning acts they had 10 minutes (green), five minutes (amber) and one minute remaining (red) to clear off or face a fine. Prefiguring the boom, Féile was a mission statement to the wider world from a newly confident Ireland along the lines of anything you can do, we can do better.
Some innovations were faddishly of their time, like the Video Confession Box disclosures broadcast by Dustin The Turkey on the giant screens of Féile TV. There were touches of ingenuity, too. In the days when mobile phones were still bricky and patchy, motorcycle couriers with pagers were a key link in the communications network for a festival that took over an entire townland. Some of the biggest stars on the planet, Bryan Adams included, discovered that the easiest way to move around the sprawling site was to stick on a crash helmet and move through the crowds unnoticed on the back of a motorbike as the courier’s special delivery package.
There were downsides. There was campsite chaos at the second Féile when campers, unable to sleep because of the din, pulled the plugs on noisy generators, leading to scenes of pitch-dark chaos. And the queues for the ladies toilets proved an intractable never-ending story. A Féile spokesman didn’t help when he suggested it was an unwinnable battle, saying: “Ladies just take longer than men in the jacks. The only way to speed them up is to remove the mirrors.” Chris de Burgh’s engagement of a scantily clad woman for ‘Patricia The Stripper’ emphasised that Ireland was still much closer in time to the 1970s than to 2018.
Throwbacks aside, the early Féiles were a signpost towards an optimistic new departure, though for at least one band the Trip To Tipp turned out to be the end of the line. The outfit arrived into the hospitality tent after finishing a deserted lunchtime slot. As they drowned their sorrows, their guitarist announced he’d had enough and was quitting the band. Hundreds looked on in astonishment, as his bandmates gave him a spectacular send off, punching him across a big picnic table sending beer glasses flying in a bar-room brawl scene worthy of Dodge City. It was shocking to watch, but it did in part inspire the headline ‘Teenage Mutant Binge At Thurles,’ which I’m proud to claim as all my own work.
When Féile left Semple Stadium after 1994 it was like Spurs relocating to Wembley. Home advantage was lost and the atmosphere was gone. Most of all, though, the moment had passed.