Friday 15 December 2017

And now for something completely different...

The joys of bog snorkelling. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA
The joys of bog snorkelling. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA
Enjoying the oysters. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Allan Auld, Blessington admires some trains at the Dublin Toy and Train Fair in Clontarf Castle, Dublin. Photo: Martin Nolan
Katherine Lynch will be performing at MILK


It might have seemed difficult to credit throughout a sodden July, but Ireland is awash with something other than rain, rain and more rain every summer. I speak of the staggering amount of festivals.

Such is their proliferation that, at this stage, I wouldn't be entirely surprised to go down to the kitchen some summer morning and find a festival taking place there in my honour, supported by an Arts Council grant, with Brendan Gleeson as master of ceremonies and featuring some cutting-edge modern dance, specially commissioned for the event.

And there appear to be more than ever each year, ranging from music to theatre, comedy to opera, flower arranging to Lovely Girl competitions. So many, indeed, that scientists have calculated you would need to clone yourself 714 times to be able to check out each one in person.

You must, therefore, be selective in your attendance. Sure, we all know the big Irish festivals -- yer Rose of Tralees, Kilkenny Arts and Electric Picnics -- and they're great. But most of us have been to one of them, or at least something like one of them, and probably more than once.

So we've hunted out some alternative options for festivalistas over the coming weeks and months.

First up: ever wanted to get dirty in Monaghan? I mean, really filthy? No, we're not talking about a raunchy weekend for two in Ireland 's second-most romantic county (the most romantic, of course, being Fingal). We're talking about the second Irish National Bog-Snorkelling Championships, taking place outside Castleblayney on September 11.

It nearly comes as a shock to discover that bog snorkelling really exists, and people really do compete in this sloshy escapade, wriggling and slithering around a muddy trench in a wetsuit. Still, if you swapped the wetsuit for a pair of shorts and flagon of cider, you could almost be at a music festival.

Speaking of which, there are probably more such events in Ireland nowadays than there are Irish people to attend them, so again, you need to be selective. Helium 2010, taking place today, looks interesting, if only for the fact that it's surely the teensiest musical shindig on the planet.

It all happens in just one venue, Skellys Bar in Bally-mahon, Co Longford. With Dubbalin troubadour Damien Dempsey topping the bill and a nice cosy atmosphere, this could be a lot of squashy fun.

Meanwhile, Ballyshannon in Donegal does a collective jig and reel this weekend to the long- running Folk and Traditional Music Festival. Hairy men gargling Guinness and plucking banjos, and wild women caterwauling over the sound of a keening fiddle... sounds like a regular weekend in them there parts, to be honest.

This year there's an added attract-ion: an exhibition of artist Barry Britton's iconic posters which have advertised the festival for the past three decades. See www.ballyshannon

Moving a few miles east we come to a self-styled gay music festival, which initially opens up visions of wall-to-wall Barbra Streisand covers and Steps-themed dance-offs. But never fret, MILK is much cooler than that. "Ireland's First Gay and Lesbian Outdoor Music Festival" has a seriously impressive line-up of (mainly) pop acts: Róisín Murphy, Bananarama, Sophie Ellis Bextor, Alexandra Burke, Samantha Fox, Katherine Lynch and loads more.

Some 5,000 folks are expected at Ballinlough Castle in Clonmellon, Co Westmeath on August 14. See

Or if all that isn't enough for you, hammer on down to Waterford for the Dunmore East Bluegrass Festival, from August 27 to 29.

This most rustic of American music has many historical connections to Ireland, of course, being partly based on that fine Gaelic tradition of having a wild hoolie while drinking a lot of whiskey. Email:

Perhaps all this is too modern for you -- yes, even the bluegrass. Perhaps you'd prefer to go back in time for some festival fun. Well, now you can.

The Decades Festival, taking place in Cork on August 13 and 14, sees more than 60 venues organising nostalgia-themed events -- big fancy dress parties with lots of booze, basically -- set in one particular era. And the 1980s is by far the most popular, with more than half the venues choosing this theme.

But if the thought of revisiting that hideous decade makes you want to smash up Marty McFly's time machine, no fear: instead you can sample 1920s-style gin joints, 1940s swing clubs, 1950s rockabilly and 1990s raves.

It all sounds like enormous fun, it must be said. See

Staying in nostalgic mode, the Dublin Toy and Train Fair (September 12) will see dealers in all sorts of toys and model train sets come from as far as Lithuania and the Czech Republic for a veritable cornucopia of kiddie delights.

The fair, in the Clontarf Castle Hotel, has up to 76 tables for visitors to browse in search of the kind of toys they have loved since childhood.

All that still not enough for you? Maybe you could give the "Howya" International Festival of Friendship a lash. It celebrates that nice rural method of communication -- saying "howya" -- with a Friendship Parade, the world's largest human chain and longest handshake. Taking place in the Laois village of Durrow since late July, it runs until August 2. See

Alternatively, you could visit Clarenbridge Oyster Festival from September 10-12; see www.claren Or there's the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival, from September 3 to October 4. As a student I put down the mandatory thousand hours in Co Clare's most famous town, and, let me tell you, the view is better from the other side of the bar. It's a real old Irish institution, this one, and although the likelihood of finding true love is probably slim enough, Lisdoon is great fun for the whole month of September.

Besides, if you strike out with Cupid, there's always the amazing Burren landscape to explore, and plenty of pubs in which to drown your sorrows and write poems about love and loss, ochon ochon.

Irish Independent

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