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Thursday 19 October 2017

Veritable feast spread out for the picnickers

From highbrow to plain lowdown, it's amazing what you can stumble across at Stradbally, writes Carol Hunt

This year the fabulous Electric Picnic has re-branded itself as a 'music and arts' festival. And not before time, because no matter what your taste or preference, there is something for you here.

Erotic poetry for the elderly lady? Actress Orla McGovern is happy to oblige. The complete history of Ireland In 45 minutes -- as gaelige? Theatre group Fibin has it sorted. Mystical storytelling? Michael James Ford and Trevor Knight enthrall children and adults alike with tales from Oscar Wilde.

All the while 30,000 people are strolling, eating, drinking and soaking up the myriad acts on offer here at Stradbally Hall. And I'm so, so, happy to be one of them.

On Friday night the best Irish rock band EVER (in my humble opinion) played to an ecstatic crowd of loyal fans.

Yes, The Stunning are back.

Later on, standing next to Joe Wall at the bar was Picnic site-manager and ex-Sawdoctor Pierce Doherty, responsible for the immortal lines: "Joe Wall Broke My Heart".

Also on Friday was the Leviathan debate on cultural diversity in Ireland. Chaired by our home-grown celebrity economist David McWilliams, and sponsored by the European Commission, it was a no- holds-barred, robust discussion on whether the 'new' Ireland is an 'opportunity or a threat'.

With journalist Ian O'Doherty, Councillor Killian Forde and Nigerian theatre producer Bisi Adijum on the panel fighting it out, 'robust' soon veered toward incendiary.

Happily, all remained friends as McWilliams noted: "As usual with Leviathan, we are none the wiser after an hour's debate".

The Arts Council has also hosted an eclectic selection of writers discussing themes in The Spoken word area. My kids made me promise that I would ask Roddy Doyle if he was planning any more of his fantastic 'Rover' books. Sadly he said he wasn't. However, he is planning a picture book for four to seven-year-olds, so that should keep them happy. Doyle was part of the writers' discussion on the New Ireland -- "wherever that is", as he said.And if you thought Patrick Bergin was just an actor, think again. The man is a poet, as the crowd on Saturday discovered when he read a selection of works to great approval -- especially from the women in the audience.

And where else would you find yourself standing behind the best-looking minister in Ireland (sorry, Brian, it's Eamon Ryan) while queueing for coffee.

And of course the festival lives up to its name as a 'picnic' -- the food on offer is a continual source of wonder and experimentation. And for people -- OK, me -- who like to drink a lot of wine and still feel good about it -- there are places where you can get your recycled wine bottles refilled with cold chardonnay straight from the tap.

So you will understand if I sign off now.

There are bands to see, friends to meet, authors to listen too, gourmet delights to sample ... and Joe Wall may still be out there.

Gotta fight for your right to party: Page 20

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