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Art, Abba and atmosphere. . . seaside festival has plenty to whet the appetitePicturesque village spreads its wings with festivities to suit all ages and tastes, as Ralph Riegel discovers

WHISPER it, but Kinsale might be accused of being a little greedy. The picturesque Cork fishing town -- blessed with an idyllic location -- has been the country's self-proclaimed gourmet food capital for decades.

And its annual tourist trade puts other Irish towns firmly in the shade. But it seems that isn't enough.

Now it is aiming to claim a lucrative slice of Ireland's arts festival market.

Kinsale Arts Week, which officially kicked off yesterday, isn't so much a festival as a multi-sensory experience.

"It has been one of the best days of our holiday -- the atmosphere is wonderful," Karl Schwarz, from Germany, said, as he toured the town's main art exhibition in The Mill venue.

Festival curator Gemma Tipton said they aimed to build on the town's strengths and history with the nine-day event.

"The theme is 'The Horse and The Sea'. We are very excited that the time has finally come where we can share our programme with the people of Kinsale and the surrounding area," she told the Irish Independent.

"We hope people will participate in as many of the events as they can -- we have something for everyone."

Strolling around Kinsale's quays yesterday, locals and tourists alike were taking that advice firmly to heart -- while simultaneously dodging rain showers.

A somewhat embarrassed Jim Donoghue, from Mitchelstown, admitted he was in Kinsale because he was an Abba fan rather than an art aficionado.

Waterloo, who are the world's only Abba-endorsed tribute band, play a gig tonight in the breathtaking setting of the town's 16th Century Charles Fort.

"When I heard about the concert I thought it'd be a good weekend to come to Kinsale and enjoy some music, fun and a few good meals. And a bit of 'Dancing Queen' maybe," Jim laughed.

If flairs and perms are not your thing, The Undertones and French band, Nouvelle Vague, offer very different alternatives.

Even Limerick's own RubberBandits gets in on the act in Kinsale with a show that brings the curtain down on the entire festival.

For others, the attractions will be more high-brow.

British Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo officially opens the entire festival this evening and will be the star reader at children's literary event in the Trident Hotel tomorrow evening.

Mr Morpurgo -- author of several best-selling children's books and the smash-hit Broadway play, 'Warhorse' -- will be joined by Dame Babette Cole, whose book 'Fetlock's Hall' aptly fits into the weekend's equine theme.

Dame Cole will ride around Kinsale perched side-saddle on a horse.

Labour's presidential hopeful, Michael D Higgins, will read several of his poems at a public event next Wednesday, although he will read from a lectern rather than a horse's saddle.

The Galway TD will also be forgiven for hoping that he garners votes for the Aras rather than merely applause.

Back at The Mill, the star attraction was an art exhibition entitled 'Point to Point', which maintains the equine theme alongside works by 32 leading artists, including Brian O'Doherty, Charles Tyrrell, Eithne Jordan, Martin Gale, Maud Cotter, Anita Groener, Diana Copperwhite, Alan Phelan and Mick O'Dea.

The festival -- which runs until Sunday, July 17 -- is estimated to be worth a crucial €4m to the local economy with up to 25,000 people set to flock to Kinsale.

Irish Independent