WOMAN ON THE VERGE: Festival fever hits West Cork

August 9th, 2022 3:30 PM

By Emma Connolly

From bumper cars, to having the Taoiseach of your country blowing the whistle for the under-age races … what’s not to love about West Cork’s summer festivals? (Photo: Shutterstock)

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After the pandemic saw pretty much all summer festivals cancelled for the past two years, we just can’t get enough of them this year. You’d almost need a spreadsheet to keep on top of all the entertainment on offer on any given night around here at the moment

• NOW, I never had our Taoiseach down as a whistle blower, but that’s exactly what he was at, on a recent afternoon at the summer festival in his adopted village of Courtmacsherry. Micheál had the honours of starting a few of the under-age races held in the local tennis court. They weren’t his usual target audience, that’s for sure – a group of distracted kids only thinking about getting to the finish line regardless of who they took out on the way, and their slightly hassled parents who were praying they’d do it without a fall or anything that would require expensive dental work. But that did nothing to quell the FF leader’s enthusiasm, which only added to the frisson of excitement that was already in the air. I imagine it was the same in Ahakista with Graham Norton. I’ve yet to make it to his quiz night but there’s always next year. Forget about Electric Picnic or Longitude, I personally don’t think you can beat the fun of a country summer festival, and after a two-year gap, the appetite for such events, taking place all over West Cork right now, is absolutely fierce. 

• And sure, what’s not to like about them? I mean where else would you get a line-up as original and diverse as a greasy pole competition, duck race, dog show, pig race, crab fishing competition and tea dancing, possibly all on the same day. Throw in the smell of chips, mixed with candy floss everywhere you go, someone selling you a raffle ticket at every turn (always three for a tenner), and the likelihood of meeting someone you haven’t seen in 20 years (possibly while on the greasy pole), and it all makes for a heady mix. You’d nearly need to go into training to last the pace, but it’s all good. Village festivals really help to galvanise a community and the stamina and commitment of those who make them happen is something to be applauded. Bring it on!

• That’s not forgetting, of course, the fancy dress which is a headline event at most local festivals. We’re a big fancy dress household. Some families are into sailing, or hiking, or holidays … don’t ask me why, but we’re into fancy dress. It was a tradition passed down to us, and now we’re passing it on to the next generation. We had to suffer the mortification of taking part for years, so it’s only fair they should have to as well! I remember on ‘fancy dress Sunday’ my siblings and I would keep our heads down and hope and pray that it would pass quietly by. No chance. Usually with around a hour to go, my dad would say: ‘C’mon we’ll make a burst for it,’ and there’d be skin and hair flying to get to the line-up on time. Cousins were enlisted, French students, dogs, anyone who was in the vicinity was plonked up on a trailer, where you’d almost be passing out from the fumes of spray paint from the posters, sometimes not even fully sure what you were going out as. And the fact that my festival in Timoleague is one of the last on the local circuit made it a bit more challenging too, as everything had already been ‘done’ by then. You had to dig deep. Anyway, the trick was to work with what you had. In our case the starting point was always loads of greenery, and bales of hay … after that it was a bit of a wild card. One year it involved a hydraulic scraper (which was made into a moving bed, that’s literally all I can remember) and another year we had a crow banger (not sure that went down too well with the crowd, or the Red Cross volunteers to be honest). If in doubt our fall-back approach was to make noise (as I’d silently repeat to myself ‘this too shall pass).

• Of course there was always the promise of a few extra turns on the bumpers or the swing boats and a bag of chips to coax us into taking part, which was usually enough to get us on board (very important not to have the chips before the swing boats though, for obvious reasons). The amusements, or the ‘merries’ were always a huge draw and I don’t mind admitting I’m looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a bumper car myself when Timoleague festival starts on August 12th. ‘One way ’round only, folks!’ Anything that spins, or is off the ground, I’ll be giving a wide swerve to, though. When they were last here, pre-pandemic, I had the perfect excuse as the-then four-year-old was legitimately too small for most of the rides. I won’t get away so easily this year. Time to buckle up!

• Anyway, we’ve not a notion for the fancy dress yet … two years ago we went for a ‘save the farmers’ theme as the beef protests were making headlines. It’s a bit disappointing, to say the least, that the narrative hasn’t changed that much in the interim. But on another note, I was thinking wouldn’t it be pure gas all the same if Leo got a notion to come down to the festival in a bid to get one up on Micheál? If he got some figary to come and do a TikTok from a Timoleague trailer? Now that’s got a certain ring to it, doesn’t it? 

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