| 15.7°C Dublin

In which I reveal my love of Body & Soul...

It's easier to dole out criticism than it is to heap praise. Writers are acutely aware of this. They know a review of a film, or a book or a play that they didn't enjoy will write itself.

Bile extravagantly inks the page.

A tirade of disparagement makes every writer seem like a better writer. It gives their turn of phrase a certain edge.

Every writer knows that it's easier to dislike something. At least they'll make their deadline.

It takes considerably more time to eulogise, or extol the virtues of a product, place or person. There are only so many words for 'brilliant'.

It makes me wonder if some writers dole out criticism for criticism's sake.

Or damn with faint praise in order to make a point...

I suppose we rarely see celebrations in the media because they are a seeming affront to objectivity.

Nobody wants to seem saccharine or sycophantic.


Well, unless you're a fashion writer, many of whom adopt a tone that would suggest that they would sacrifice their child for a new season handbag.

But I digress. Because I have a point.

Last weekend, I attended the Body & Soul festival in Ballinlough Castle in Westmeath, where I promptly fell in love.

Indeed, I could have cried at the beauty of it all.

I didn't, thank God. Instead, I decided that I was going to write the organisers a letter.

Being a woman of letters, I further decided that there was no better place to send it than to my editor. So here goes:

As readers of this column will remember, I recently attended a festival that made me reconsider festival-going as a sport, and social integration as a pursuit.

They say civility is the elusive glue of social cohesion. There was little civility at this event, and hence a resounding sense of anxiety.

'Hell is other people', I thought, as I surveyed my surroundings. And then I got the feck out of there.

Afterwards, I wondered if it was just me: was it because I was older, sober, ill prepared...?

Maybe I just didn't like techno any more.

But I was willing to give it another shot.

Body & Soul has a reputation as one of the most thoughtfully curated events on the Irish festival calendar, so what better place to re-establish my love of the three-day knees up.

And what better chance to sprinkle glitter on my face and flowers in my hair.

"This festival is about respect," declared my friend Laura, as we walked through the campsite on our way into the main area.

The lawn was manicured.

There was no rubbish.

The tents were in neat little lines. There were none of the hallmarks of a typical festival campsite.

There was nobody singing Oasis songs on their guitar; nobody passed out beside a bin.

We walked past a board chalked with the words of William Blake: "To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour."

We ventured further inside, past a Chai tent, and a Japanese restaurant, a vegetarian kiosk and all manner of deliciousness. Everyone was smiling.

And everyone was strolling.

There was none of the chaotic weaving from tent to tent, or frantic phone calls – "I'm in the RED tent!" People were kicking back, taking their time; reflecting.

I've been to festivals in the past that have introduced me to the grotesqueries of human nature, where people shed their layers of civility and devolve for three days.

It is Freud's Id reawakened as they set out to fulfil their most primal desires, whether it's urinating on the side of your tent or feeling your arse as they meander through the crowds. It's all built on fear.

Body & Soul is built on love.

And you can feel it. It's about inclusiveness and people participation and spiritual evolution. The only way is up.

I had the pleasure of interviewing organiser Avril Stanley two years ago. "We're really about looking at things from a different perspective and turning what a festival is on its head," she said at the time.

"It's as much about what we are creating for people as what people are bringing to the table themselves. You can participate with it and bring your own slice of music, magic, and costume – whatever you want."

And my word has she delivered.

Body & Soul puts out an open call to the creative community encouraging people to come forth and share their ideas within the space.

The result is a series of magical installations buried deep in the woodland; exquisite food and fabulous performing artists.

It's a rich tapestry of ideas; an orgy of sensuality and a big up to Mother Nature.


There are holistic pursuits, too – yoga, mediation, massage, you name it – but it's not the be all and end all.

It's not a sanctimonious offering. It's there should you want to try it, and it strikes me that people are more inclined to try it within these circumstances.

And then there's the Boundless Bathing area: outdoor wood-fired hottubs, and showers. They even give you swimwear and flip-flops...

Speaking of which, I left my bag containing my bikini – and plenty more besides – in one of the tents. It was still there when I went back an hour later.

I think that says it all.

Avril Stanley and her team are causing change in Ireland. This festival is a little slice of Utopia, a microcosm of what could be.

I've lost count of the amount of people who have told me that her festival has redeemed their faith in human nature.

Hats off to her.