Mar 10, 2011 2:56:50 AM
Ireland’s most offbeat festivals
Even in straitened times, Ireland has never needed an excuse to celebrate. If the more eccentric end of the cultural spectrum is to your liking, here are a few of its more unusual events to whet your appetite.
It’s sport, but not as we know it. The Irish Bog Snorkelling Championship takes place in the wonderful marshy boglands of Castleblayney, Co Monaghan and you’d be hard pressed to find a muddier, murkier and less inviting track in any other racing event. That doesn’t stop the 250 or so people who turn up every year to navigate its brown watery depths with the aid of a snorkel and flippers (and maybe a flamboyant costume). The idea is simple: propel yourself down two narrow bog water-filled trenches of 120 metres using only your feet (no swimming strokes allowed) and first past the peaty post is the winner. Now in its third year, anyone can muck in, and it’s one of those events that’s as much (or maybe more) fun to watch as take part in.
Even though the cult Channel 4 comedy series, Father Ted, about three hapless priests living on the fictitious Craggy Island filmed its last episode in 1998, such was the strength of its fan-base that it gave rise to one of the country’s zaniest get-togethers, Tedfest. In suitably surreal fashion, participants descend on the small Aran Island, Inis Mór, off the west coast of Co Galway in February each year impersonating one of the show’s characters - whisky-swilling Father Jack, tea-pushing housekeeper Mrs Doyle, the lecherous island milkman or one of the many Hairy Babies he sired. Events include Elvis cage fighting, confessing sins at the virtual confession box, breakfast aerobics with the nuns, more nuns and priests 5-a-side soccer on the beach and the Lovely Lady competition (a homage to the kitsch Irish Rose of Tralee), where girls are tested on their sandwich-making or swiss-rolling skills. Whether you’ve watched the series or not, it’s a fantastic exercise in silliness and a weekend to remember.
If festivals were awarded points on atmosphere alone, Kilruddery Film Festival would top many lists. Stepping through the ornate wrought-iron gates onto on the peaceful grounds of the beautiful 17th-century estate Kilruddery House in Bray, Co Wicklow, still home to the Earl of Meath, it seems apt that this small four-day event is there to celebrate ‘lost, overlooked and forgotten films’. Only a mile or so from here is Ireland’s busiest film stage location Ardmore Studios, so it was a no-brainer that Kilruddery became the outdoor location for a host of Irish-shot films such as Far and away, My Left Foot, The Magnificent Ambersons and Aristocrats. Unless you’re an inveterate film buff like organiser Daniel Fitzpatrick, chances are you won’t have seen or heard of most of the films on its March weekend programme but that’s half the fun. Immerse yourself in surroundings that evoke a more genteel era and watch treasures from the archives in the glass orangerie (modelled on Crystal Palace), silent films accompanied by live orchestration in the neo-classical drawing room or take part in a foley workshop (recording sound effects) in the crumbling stable block. These celluloid beauties may have been once forgotten but Kilruddery hopes to put that right.
As festivals go this last one is pretty wild. And that’s not just the animals. The canny heroism of a wild puck or male goat who alerted villagers to the arrival of Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century is the supposed origin of the historic three-day Puck Fair in Killorglin, Co Kerry every August, allegedly Ireland’s oldest. Some argue it was an ancient pagan festival of lugnasa to celebrate the harvest gathering, but either way locals (and about 1000 blow-ins) don’t seem to care and toast the feted goat on the village streets with much abandon. Festivities kick off when a group of villagers catch a mountain goat and parade him through the streets, music and ceili dance sessions, horse trading, burger and chip-eating and fireworks ensue and the festival comes to a close when a local 12-year old schoolgirl gets crowned Queen Puck, a title to treasure till August comes round again.