16 May 2012

A Time of Fire and Water - part II



Our three-day visit to the Midlands was so enticing we just couldn't stay away. After our whistle-stop tour of Roscommon, Sligo and Leitrim we found ourselves sitting back home on Friday night just itching to get back to the heart of Real Ireland (TM), when we remembered a banner we had seen strung outside the Button Factory on Curved Street some weeks ago advertising The Festival of The Fires, billed as "Ireland's answer to Burning Man".

"Surely not?", we scoffed at the time, our Celtic Tiger Cubs would never understand the joys of gifting in a money-free environment (though thanks to the ongoing effort of The Government and their chums in the Troika we might all be getting a crash course in barter pretty damn soon), our weather is too cold and wet for acres of topless women on bicycles and the bottomless men who sleaze after them, and what room could there be in Ireland for a celebration of the alternative when politician after politician has come before us to remind us all that "There Is No Alternative"?

"No, you misunderstand," the banner replied in our minds, "we shall build big things out of wood, and then burn them to the ground while we dance around in the embers of our heathen sacrifice"

"Heathen sacrifice? Well why didn't you say so", and thus late on Friday evening we consulted with a good friend that lived nearby(ish) and decided to once again return to the Midlands.

A wooden watch tower. A flammable wooden watch tower. Very flammable.
Festival of the Fires, The Hill of Uisneach, Saturday May 5th
Aill na Mireann - The Stone of Divisions, also known as the Naval of Ireland - the geographic centre of Ireland, apparantly
Festival of the Fires, The Hill of Uisneach, Saturday May 5th
Lough Lugh, a hilltop lake where offerings were made to the god Lugh at Lughnasadh. There may have been dancing.
Festival of the Fires, The Hill of Uisneach, Saturday May 5th
New rule, all festivals must have warrior maidens on horseback
Festival of the Fires, The Hill of Uisneach, Saturday May 5th
The Festival of The Fires is a small festival with no more than five thousand attendees, held on the Hill of Uisneach near Mullingar. The hill, apparently, is the geographical centre of Ireland, the home of the goddess Eriu after which our green and pleasant land is named. In pre-Christian times on Bealtaine fires were lit on the hill to mark the start of the summer, the first in a series of fire relays lit on hilltops all across the country, and a couple of years ago the current owners of the land (normally used for cattle grazing) decided to reignite this tradition with a one-day festival of music and burning things.

Now normally I would run away screaming from such things faster than I would a play about a drumming circle written by Chekov and performed by interpretive dancers and mimes in the Abbey Theatre, but somehow my internal cynicism was dialed down to "Guarded" and it slipped through my my normally fool-proof invasive pat-down system (Invasive, for your protection and convenience) and thus I found myself on a Saturday afternoon standing at the base of a hill in Westmeath trying very hard not to slip on a rock and accidentally fall into the Otherworld.

The Fire Parade sets off in search of something to burn
Festival of the Fires, The Hill of Uisneach, Saturday May 5th
The Fire Parade approaches the Watch Tower
Festival of the Fires, The Hill of Uisneach, Saturday May 5th
The Fire Parade approaches the Watch Tower
Festival of the Fires, The Hill of Uisneach, Saturday May 5th
The Festival itself was altogether rather nice, small and somewhat erratically formed (An 'erratic' being a large misplaced rock left behind by the melting of a glacier, of which there were several scattered around Uisneach) with an eclectic line-up of Irish musicians to cater for all tastes (as long as your tastes were no more exotic than folk, Oirish-Rawk or The Late Late Show). There were folks on hand to demonstrate the medieval skills of fletchery, blacksmithing, bone-carving and all the other trades we'll need to relearn if the Austerity Treaty becomes law, an eclectic array of epicurean samplings (including an entire tent sponsored/hosted by Natasha of the raw vegan Living Food fame) and the days was punctuated by a number of charges through the crowd by sword-wielding horse-maidens (though they may just have been trying to get a good spot to see Bressie, whatever that is).

I have now decided that every festival needs at least one cavalry charge, if Oxegen hadn't been cancelled this year I might have signed up to lead one there. With swords.

The highlight of the festival came as dusk fell and a procession of fire slowly worked its way through the site up to a large wooden watch tower constructed at the very top of the hill, around which it cavourted (somewhat solemnly) before setting the tower ablaze and ushering in the summer. We had climbed up the tower earlier in the day, In this the parallels with Burning Man were most obvious, though the atmosphere of the entire event contained a warmth and friendliness that I haven't seen at too many other Irish festivals.

The Burn begins
Festival of the Fires, The Hill of Uisneach, Saturday May 5th
The Watch Tower is aflame, marking Bealtaine and heralding the arrival of Summer
Festival of the Fires, The Hill of Uisneach, Saturday May 5th
The Watch Tower is aflame, marking Bealtaine and heralding the arrival of Summer
Festival of the Fires, The Hill of Uisneach, Saturday May 5th
The embers of the Tower burn low
Festival of the Fires, The Hill of Uisneach, Saturday May 5th
Elsewhere on Uisneach crowds gather to dance through the flames
Festival of the Fires, The Hill of Uisneach, Saturday May 5th
Now as I said my skepticism was at what I would normally consider to be a dangerously low level, unhealthily low, so low in fact that I even passed within a meter of a drumming circle inside a teepee and experienced no adverse physiological or psychological reactions (though I may experience the effects of repressed trauma at a later stage in my life). But I have to say that I enjoyed myself thoroughly and would seriously consider going back again next year.

While it certainly wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea (on paper it shouldn't even have been my cup of tea), if you are looking for something beyond the run-of-the-mill teenagers-vomiting-in-a-gravel-car-park-€300-for-a-two-day-pass festival then this might just fit the bill.

Also, they set things on fire.

Big fires.

A lot of fires.

Cleansing fires.

Fires.

Unkie Dave stands amidst the flames, cynicism burning away. Along with eyebrows.
Festival of the Fires, The Hill of Uisneach, Saturday May 5th

Oh, and while we were there I got an email to say that the water system for our building had failed again. On a Saturday. The Saturday of a Bank Holiday weekend.

Poo.

Links
You can find out more about the Festival of the Fires at their website here.

Labels: ,

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home

Older Posts... ...Newer Posts