Thursday 17 August 2017

Remembering An Tóstal, the festivals celebrating Irish life - including 'Stylish Silage'

Who needs Glasto glitter-boobs?

Stylish Silage
Stylish Silage
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

Before Longitude, E.P. or even Witnness (remember that?) there was An Tóstal.

A series of festivals around the country that launched in 1953 that were intended to celebrate all that was great and good about Irish life - and to up the numbers of tourists.

The idea was thought up by the President of Pan Am airlines, after seeing the 1951 Festival of Britain.

An Tóstal gave birth to a number of events that are still with us, such as the Tidy Towns’ competition, and, of course, the Mammy of them all: the Rose of Tralee.

Some other events didn’t do so well. Whatever happened to An Tóstal’s Trout Fishing competition for example? Or the infamous an Tóstal Hair Styling contest, which encouraged lovely young girls to ‘curl it up in fine fashion’.

While most villages, towns and cities retired the festival in 1958, the Leitrim town of Drumshambo have kept the proud tradition going strong, and this weekend marks the start of the 65th Tóstal Festival.

What better way to kick off the festivities than with the inaugural ‘Stylish Silage’ competition.

For the uninitiated, that involves taking regular old bales of hay and transforming them into wondrous works of art.

How’s that for cutting edge innovation?

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Stylish Silage

Organiser Hugh James Gallagher said the Tóstal committee have been blown away with the quality of entries.

They include a Silage pile in the shape of a Minion, a pint of Guinness, a John Deere tractor, Mr Bump, and my favourite; Henry the Hoover.

“It’s really taken off - and the entries are getting bigger and more adventurous as the week goes on,” Gallagher said.

“The people of Drumshambo are very creative - they have great imagination.”

The winner of the Stylish Silage competition will be announced tomorrow after the annual An Tóstal parade, and shortly before the Joe Dolan Tribute Band take to the stage.

“It’s a whole week of celebrations,” Gallagher said.

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Stylish Silage

“TV3’s Chef Adrian and a comedian hypnotist are coming in for it too.”

Personally, I find An Tóstal just the tonic after all the try-too-hard-ness of Glastonbury where ageing hipsters seemed desperate to prove they were having the time of their lives.

Women wandered about with this year’s must-have festival look: ‘glitter boobs’, which I think we can all agree should be re-branded and re-named  ‘Disco T**s’.

Chronic over-sharing pop star Katy Perry roared about finally being cool. Meanwhile, everyone went insane about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn aka Jezza – he got more of a cheer than any of the headline acts.

There was even a sand sculpture depicting Corbyn dressed in hunting garb, chasing Prime Minister Theresa May through a field of wheat.

It just all seemed a little forced, on Instagram everyone was posting pictures of themselves having the Best. Time. Ever.

None of that pressure exists at An Tóstal - you don’t have to pretend you know all the bands or like sleeping in a one man tent in the rain.

Instead, you can just enjoy what’s one offer - namely the Stylish Silage show and a bracing rendition of Joe Dolan’s hits which, I can exclusively reveal, is likely to include Westmeath Bachelor and Sweet Little Rock N Roller.

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