It's party time: Your essential guide to this weekend’s best music, arts and comedy festivals
As Alice Cooper says, school's out for summer. Put down your pen, switch off your computer and plot a Whit weekend escape. The Whitsun bank holiday is becoming the official start of Ireland's summer festival season. Between now and September, every weekend will host a major European music or arts festival.
Mindful that the word festival can strike financial fear into the hearts of seasoned Oxegen and Electric Picnic attendees, our selection of events for this weekend will not break the bank. The following festivals are medium sized and extremely punter friendly, and there are differing accommodation options if camping puts the fear of God into you.
If you want to blast into summer in style, here are five ways to get the party started.
FLAT LAKE FESTIVAL
Hilton Park, Clones, Co Monaghan (Weekend camping €100, Saturday/Sunday walk-in €45, Fri night €25
The festival of choice if you're looking for something quirky, anarchic, fun and a complete break from the norm is the excellent Flat Lake, or as they so eloquently put it themselves: "A righteous weekend jive for Artyheads, Moochers, B-Girls, Gassers, Bandrats, Grifters, Shifters, Snowbirds, Hepcats, Heels, Groghounds . . . and long gone Daddies."
Flat Lake was born out of a pub conversation between writer Pat McCabe (The Butcher Boy) and director and screenwriter Kevin Allen (Twin Town, The Big Tease). Unlike most big ideas hatched over pints, Allen and McCabe made it happen; the result is Flat Lake, a word-of-mouth sensation that's the polar opposite to conventional festivals, or what Allen calls "off the peg entertainment".
"We thought it'd be great to do something that wasn't consumed by marketing," he says. "Flat Lake markets itself and the proof is in the pudding."
Tonight's scheduled duet between Lily Allen and Crystal Swing has already grabbed the headlines, and they'll be joined by a cast of wild and wonderful characters over the weekend, including Alexei Sayle and Shane MacGowan. Even the stage names have a charming ring: The Butty Barn, Scanbitz Stage, The Gonzo Theatre, Mondo Rancho Tiffin Tent, McEntee's Campfire Stage, The Hurl Soft Knowledge Exchange and more.
It caters for the entire gamut of the creative arts and prides itself on a loose anything-goes policy. On Saturday night, actor Cillian Murphy will DJ in the Butty Bar (steady yourselves, ladies) and Alexei Sayle will do God knows what. Sunday will see a duet between Shane MacGowan and Mundy and an appearance from Clones Cyclone Barry McGuigan, not in the boxing ring but fronting a band.
A walk-in ticket for either Saturday or Sunday is only €45. The whole weekend -- three nights, including camping -- is a very reasonable €100, a steal compared to the hefty prices for Oxegen and Electric Picnic. Allen says they're working hard to sell the best pint possible for €4.50 and fresh organic and free-range meals from a fiver.
Shay Healy is also curating a showband spectacular on Saturday night, so if you want to do the hucklebuck in a culture vulture stylee, you know where to go.
CARLSBERG CAT LAUGHS
Various venues, Kilkenny (€10-€39)
The country's original comedy festival is probably still the best. Each year, the Marble City is invaded by comedians from far and wide and fans have responded by making it a rip-roaring success.
The bigger shows on Saturday night have sold out, so you mightn't get a ticket for the likes of Ardal O'Hanlon, but our pick is Scotsman Danny Bhoy and Irish comic Bernard O'Shea. Some true giants have appeared over the years, including Bill Murray, Eddie Izzard, Bill Bailey, Michael McIntyre, Noel Fielding and Jo Brand.
Festival fever grips Kilkenny for the weekend and there is always a great buzz around the place and the main street pubs. If you can't get a ticket for the biggies, improv shows are as little as a tenner. The soccer match between Ireland and The Rest of the World is always a great hoot as Irish and foreign comics battle for the Cat's Cup -- and it's free.
It's a marathon of comedy that keeps going until Sunday. The gala finale G'Nite Cats gig in Langton's is a brilliant way to cram an entire comedy festival into a single show.
RORY GALLAGHER INTERNATIONAL TRIBUTE FESTIVAL
Ballyshannon, Co Donegal (free/€35)
The late, great Rory Gallagher remains one of our most influential musicians and without question Ireland's best guitarist of all time (apologies to The Edge and Kevin Shields). The Edge, Slash, Johnny Marr and Brian May have all acknowledged Gallagher's influence and it's only apt and fair that Bill Hicks' favourite musician gets a festival in his honour.
Fans travel from all over the world to descend on Ballyshannon this weekend and organisers have pulled off a coup in securing former Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden. The man behind Fool for Your Loving and Here I Go Again says: "Rory was a lovely guy and a great influence on me, both as a player and a human being. Sadly, he passed away much too early, but this gig in Ballyshannon will be all about celebrating him and his music. I don't intend to impersonate him, but instead I will be playing his songs the way I play and the way I sing."
The even better news is that the majority of events are free. Saturday night's headline concert is the sole ticketed event. Like the late Phil Lynott, Rory is one of the few Irish rock musicians I'd consider to be a true legend. Get Going to My Hometown, Daughter of the Everglades and What's Going On? blasting on the car stereo and get up to Donegal.
Belvedere House, Mullingar, Co Westmeath (weekend €150/ Sat &Sun €100/day €60)
Oxegen and Electric Picnic dominate the annual hype machine so much, sometimes you'd almost think there wasn't another music festival in the country.
Life is reaching a stage where it now features over 200 acts over seven stages in one the most stunning festival settings in the country (check out the photos on their site), so it really deserves a bit more credit. They've also got the best dance line-up of the year hands down, as Ricardo Villalobos, LTJ Bukem, Infected Mushroom, Frequency, Japanese Popstars, Chris Liebing, Mad Professor, Joker, Zion Train and Doc Scott head a list that also features the best of Irish talent. If all of that goes over your head, a dance music festival is the last place on earth for you this weekend!
Admission includes camping in the splendid grounds of the 17th century Belvedere House, but you also have the option of tipis, B&Bs and hotels. Green Trees luxury mobile shower units will keep you free from stinking after all that raving.
If you want a respite from dancing your socks off, explore the enchanting Victorian walled gardens. At the end of the garden, there's a a new area intriguingly entitled The Enchanted Glen, and even supposedly a secret Faery Garden.
LITTLE HAVANA FESTIVAL
Latin Quarter, Galway (free/€5/€12.50/€15)
You can't beat Galway for fun, frolics and a laid-back buzz. The City of the Tribes is always buzzing on a summer weekend and this year's inaugural Little Havana Festival promises to start the season in style. Notting Hill Carnival stalwart Norman Jay kicks off the clubbing proceedings tonight, while Gilles Peterson is tomorrow's headliner.
There's a feast of free attractions to sample tomorrow from 5pm when Cuban DJ Florian Bravo gets things going in Cross Street. Foodies and cocktail connoisseurs will be thrilled, fed and watered by a tapas trail washed down by a few large Cuba Libres. The Cuban All Stars play for free in the King's Head.
After you've danced the evening away to live music, local DJ Ray McDonnell, aka El Ray, closes the street party with a mix of Guatemalan hip-hop and Latino beats from Colombia and Descargas from Cuba.
Sunday afternoon features a party for the whole family with a fun day from 1pm to , including face painting, balloon modelling, street art, free salsa and percussion classes and a range of street games such as hopscotch, chess and draughts.
Ireland's longest conga line will start to assemble from the bottom of High Street to Shop Street to make this a big Sunday day out to remember. The Cuban Jazz Project, Cuba Libre and Cuban Combination all play live on Sunday evening, while DJ El Ray hosts the Havana Finale in Kelly's.
Galway is already a premier festival destination with its world famous Arts Festival and Races dominating the summer. It's great to see an early summer addition of entertainment for all the family, and here's hoping Galway turns into a little bit of Cuba every Whit weekend.