Friday 2 December 2016

Veritable feast of satire as crowds flock to festival honouring Swift

In the second of our Spirit of Summer series, Eamon Sweeney visits the Swift festival in Trim

Published 04/07/2011 | 05:00

JONATHAN Swift once said that a tavern is a place where madness is sold by the bottle.

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No doubt he'd heartily approve of the Gulliver's Gulp Tavern, a venue that temporarily set up shop just outside Trim Castle for the Meath town's annual Swift festival.

The even better news for sun-drenched festival-goers was that a swift one cost a mere €4.

Ireland's best satirist of all time used to minister a tiny congregation of 15 people a mile outside Trim in Laracor.

In 2011, much greater crowds congregated to enjoy a veritable feast of satire in his honour.

Bizarrely, this new addition to the summer arts calendar is the only other satire festival to be found anywhere in the world outside Iran.

What exactly one can get away with, or do, as satire in Tehran remains unclear, but there certainly was an 'anything goes' policy operating in Trim over the weekend.

"This not a straight comedy festival, so it can bring in so many different elements," said Satire Day curator and satirist Paddy Cullivan, who presented his new show 'You Are Now Entering Free Dairy'.

"Irish satire has really come of age and got much sharper in recent years. There was a time in the middle of the Celtic Tiger when the satire was safe and too happy.

"We nearly grew to love Bertie Ahern and Roy Keane through 'Gift Grub'. Now it's become sharper and harsher because we live in sharper and harsher times."

Indeed, Swift also said a wise person should have money in their head, but not in their heart.

Gerry Stembridge of 'Scrap Saturday', 'Father Ted' creator Arthur Matthews, broadcaster George Hook and stand-up comedian-turned-leading-American-radio-host Michael Graham all contributed to festivities that spanned a dazzling wealth of topics.

Matthews opined that he'd also love to run an Eejit Festival, as "we live in a golden age of eejitry".

He also riffed for several minutes on the phenomenon of the 'Poor Auld Fella' in a highly entertaining rambling conversation with Declan Lynch of the 'Sunday Independent'.

Rousing

A 'Cirque Du Satire' featured the Funny Friday comic on 'Liveline' Bob Carley, Bernard O'Shea from 'Republic of Telly' and Colm O'Regan's new show 'Dislike! A Facebook Guide to the Recession'. Ding Dong Denny O'Reilly added a rousing musical edge with his priceless caricature of a blinkered republican balladeer.

A quirky awards ceremony honoured all the festival's participants and also foremost American satirist and Oscars host Jon Stewart. While Stewart was in absentia this year, Cullivan believes he could be coming to Trim next summer for the second instalment of Satire Day.

The influence of Swift could be seen and heard all over the town.

A readathon on Market Street raised funds for Aware in a highly original and fun fashion.

Over two 15-hour sessions, festival revellers read 'Gulliver's Travels' out loud in its entirety. Readers donated €5 for a 10-minute reading slot in the front seat. To add a further twist, the readings took place in a Suburu Swift.

In addition to all the weird and wonderful Swiftian action, the sun-kissed banks of the Boyne hosted bouncing castles, roast pig on a spit and the opportunity to do a 'splash and dash' canoe paddle in the river for only a fiver.

The glorious weather helped draw the crowds, and prompted a lady selling coffee on Market Street to remark that the festival organisers must have had privileged access to "the direct line to God".

Rain, hail or shine, it looks almost certain that this will become an annual event celebrating satire in all its numerous forms.

The 'A Modest Proposal' author would be heartened that the genre he spawned has become such an unexpected summer festival hit.

Or as the man himself said, "Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed."

Irish Independent

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