Cork International Folk Festival

I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about music. Well, I’m sick of writing about it, frankly. Problem is, I’m not sick of listening to it, so until I get bored of going to pubs, drinking cider and listening to mournful folk songs about beautiful ladies and broken hearts; or trad. sessions with violins and mandolins and ‘diddle-day-ay’ and ‘tra-la-la-la-la’ music (which ain’t happening any time soon), I’m just going to have to keep blogging about it, because there will be nothing else to blog about otherwise.
So, this weekend was the Cork International Folk Festival. Being a bit a folkie, a bit of a tragic folkie, and having my whole weekend off, including Friday, with no babysitting duty required, I decided to head in and see what the world folk scene had to offer. Not that I hadn’t seen it before, but I thought it might be different this time around. Or, exactly the same, which is more what I’d prefer. Oh, you know what I mean, be quiet, Jenny. The weather has been quite, quite miserable for the past week, despite us being promised last Tuesday and Wednesday that we would be experiencing the hottest day of the year. Actually what happened was, that whilst England and Dublin were in the midst of a heat wave, all the crappy weather that would normally hang over the north of Ireland and the British Isles decided to congregate over Cork instead. It wasn’t just rainy, it was grey and foggy and windy. Now, I quite like a bit of fog. It lends a magical and mysterious air to any day. But, in Australia, I’m used to the fog clearing up by, say, 10am. At the latest. Maybe if I was hiking in the Blue Mountains, I’d expect it to stick around for a bit longer, but I would be certain of seeing some clear sky sometime during the day, and usually be looking at better weather by the next day. Not so in Ireland. Fog here is the real fog. The fog is like a deadbeat younger sibling who never knows when they’ve over stayed their welcome (not that I have a deadbeat younger sibling, mind you, but I’ve seen them on the telly and they seem very annoying). When the fog visits in Ireland, its not here for a cup of tea and a bikkie. Oh no. The fog is here to stay. To sit on your couch and put its muddy feet on the white pillows and hog the TV and eat all the ice-cream and not leave for weeks on end, until everybody in the house is all like, ‘Jesus, would the fog ever get off the couch? I want to watch the X-Factor.’
Too much fog and being inside all the time can make you a little bonkers. And the fog is still here. A week later, and its still here.
Anyway, back to the festival. So, it was miserable weather when I left Kinsale, but I was given optimistic predictions by my host family that the weather was often worse on the coast, and the Cork might be sunny. Considering this advice and weighing it against my experience in Ireland to date, I dressed myself in a long, warm jacket, stockings, wrapped my head in a scarf, and took a big umbrella. Under my big jacket, I decided to wear a summery dress. Just in case. But I didn’t hold out much hope.
I had hoped to find a room in Cork with a mate, but as this was not possible, I booked myself into the Bru Hostel and Bar, a suitably seedy looking establishment, with All Blacks flags flying outside and other antipodeans working behind the bar.
I had a meeting at 3pm in a lolly store called, ‘Sweet as!’ (unfortunately not run by Kiwis) where I was given the sweetest chai latte of my entire life. I guess I should have taken on board the fact that I was ordering it in a lolly store, and that the pies that they had on offer consisted mainly of toffee or caramel, stuffed full to burst with lollies or M&M’s and then drizzled with cream or sugary syrup. They kind of hurt your eyes to look at. It was clearly a very particular clientele they were catering for. That is, children and people on their way towards Type 2 diabetes. But, after the initial sugary burst, I managed to finish the drink and also to quite enjoy it.
I didn’t have much to do after the meeting. The first gig I’d booked for wasn’t until 8pm, so I wandered aimlessly about Cork, in the rain, attempting to find something to do. I had wanted to go and see the markets that were on that day, but it wasn’t really market weather, and by the time I remembered, after my meeting, to go and look at them, most people were packing up. So, I went to Marks & Spencer and spent an inordinately long time deciding on what to eat for my dinner (Indian? Soy Strips? So Good Vegetables? Vegetarian Moussaka? Spicy Lentil Soup? Cheesecake? Garden Salad?), checking calorie counts, ingredients, comparing colours, textures, serving size and getting more and more stressed the more options I encountered. The truth was I wasn’t really hungry, so it was nearly impossible to decide what I actually wanted to eat, in a few hours, when I would be hungry. All I knew was I wanted ‘something substantial’. That at least made garden salads and vegetable soups were easy to discount. Why am I going through all these details? Well, this was the first indications of a mood that lasted me all weekend. There’s a fabulous Calvin and Hobbes cartoon which I have been desperately looking for on the internet (but cannot find), when Calvin’s Dad goes to the supermarket and gets so angry and confused by all the choice on offer (do I need crunchy peanut butter or low salt? what if I wanted both? etc.) until the final picture of the cartoon strip where he comes home looking very grumpy and says to his wife, ‘I think you should do the shopping from now on’ and she replies, ‘Did the store manager have to speak with you again?’ This was me on Friday night. I had no idea what I wanted, and so a choice of dinners soon dissolved into a choice of activities for the weekend, choice of careers, choice of lifestyle, from where it slid into an existential crisis, ending with me clutching a pile of ready meals in the middle of the supermarket aisle, unable to move, and mumbling softly to myself as people gently pushed past me, afraid of making any loud or unexpected movements in case I would suddenly snap and bring down the fury of God upon them in the form of a pre-cooked and packaged Dhal Makhani. I was existentially relieved with the spying of a previously unseen choice of layered prawn salad and bread roll, but the mood was merely quietened, rather than resolved.
After dinner, I headed out to the first gig of the folk festival, which improved my mood slightly. It was in a beautiful venue called, ‘The Pavilion’, and I enjoyed all the music very much. However, in between the acts, I was very aware of being on my own. I don’t usually mind going to things by myself. I used to go the movies on my own as a teenager all the time, usually because I was worried my choice of movie may not be approved of by my friends, so I just saved myself the hassle of asking someone (and the potential rejection), and went by myself. I have obviously headed to many events on my own whilst in Ireland as well, and its usually not a problem, as I find people to talk to very easily. This weekend, however, was different. I was left very much on my own, no questions of where I was from, what I was doing here, what did I think of the weather etc. and I suddenly felt very, very lonely. I think there were a lot of things that contributed to my being ignored. The festival wasn’t like the one on Cape Clear, where you know everyone is there for the festival, and there’s a feeling of camaraderie, and ‘we’re all in this together’, and everyone’s pretty much seen the same events, and you see the same faces every time you attend something, so, eventually, you don’t mind sharing a joke with the person next to you, because even though you don’t know each other, you’ve become familiar, you can be fairly certain you have things in common (if only the music and events at the festival), and there are things to talk about (what did you think of this? where are you going next?) Because the Cork festival was a lot of separate events, and people could go to one and then ignore the rest of the festival, these things didn’t occur. The venue was also dark, so you couldn’t really catch people’s eyes to start a conversation. Finally, I think my terrible mood and my feelings of loneliness were working against me. Not only did I not look like a pleasant person to speak to, but I was determined not to be engaged in mindless chit-chat, a hang-over from the existential crisis in the supermarket perhaps. Its only a quick jump from, ‘I don’t feel like talking to anyone, back away!’ to, ‘No-one wants to speak to me, I’m so lonely and sad.’
I headed back to my hostel feeling more than a little miserable, but uncertain of what to do. I wanted more music, but I also didn’t want to hang out in crowded bars with everyone around me having a good time with their mates, and me feeling lonely. I sat down for another glass of wine at the hostel hoping I would figure out what I wanted soon enough. A guy walked past me and said, I thought, ‘Don’t stress!’ There is nothing I hate more, when in a bad mood, than a patronising male chirping, ‘Where’s your smile?’ as if being cheery was some sort of public service I do for middle-aged men I don’t know. So I was determined not to be jollied out of my foul mood, and I was also determined not to get into a flirtatious conversation with yet another middle-aged man I wasn’t interested in. I said, ‘I’m not stressed!’ He said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Don’t stress!’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Don’t stress!’ I said, ‘Don’t stress?’ He said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘What?’ (getting more and more grumpy), he said, ‘Don’t stress!’ I said, ‘I’m NOT STRESSED.’ He said, ‘No, no, I said, NICE DRESS.’ ‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Thanks.’ But, we were both so exhausted by the ‘conversation’ that he, thankfully, moved on. So, that’s one way of dealing with unwanted attention, I suppose. Pretend you’re deaf. Or, don speak-a-da Engliss. That’s probably another option.
I eventually headed up to my hostel room, not feeling much better. It might have been a feeling that was invading the hostel, as, about 3am, I was woken by an absolutely bonkers German girl screaming her head off. ‘I JUST WANT TO FUCKING SLEEP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ She cried. What I first thought was some sort of battle against an existential crisis of her own, whose manic, unanswerable questions were keeping her awake, my ear soon tuned into a delightfully loud and obnoxious group of Australian boys somewhere in the hostel laughing and yelling and having a bloody good time. What’s more, they wanted everyone to hear about it. The German girl, conversely, was incensed at having their enjoyment and good moods shoved down her throat (or down her ears, to be precise), and, I can only presume, from the sounds, she then launched herself out of her bunk bed, propelled herself down the hallway and proceeded to throw herself bodily, kicking and screaming, at the Aussie boys’ dorm room, screaming, ‘WILL YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP?? JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!!’
Now, I’m not sure if the German girl had ever been in a hostel before, but to me, when you’re paying a pittance for a room, you have to expect any or all of the following: lumpy mattresses; flat pillows; smelly, stuffy rooms; bugs; cheap, unsatisfying breakfasts; strange roommates; and most of all, NOISE. That doesn’t mean I enjoy these things, but railing against them seems as useful as, say, railing against a dog for eating meat, or railing against the waves for breaking on the sand and messing up all the lovely seashells. You can yell and scream and cajole all you like, but nothing is going to stop your hostel (except in a few, notable exceptions) from being smelly, dirty, cramped, unattractive, loud or all of the above. The Aussie boys evidently felt the same way, and decided to scream back at the German girl, telling her to ‘fuck off!’ One particular charmer said, ‘Do you want a piece of me?’ to which she replied, ‘Sure, come on!’ and then he yelled, ‘I’ve got a great big wing-wang (or something) here you can have a piece of that!’ Thankfully, before it all turned into an imitation of a NRL after-party or a P&O cruise, the hostel owner came and explained to the boys that they really should be going to bed now.
I woke up the next morning in an even worse mood, perhaps due to the lack of sleep, or perhaps encouraged in my existential questioning by another grey sky, fog, rain and an uncertainty of what to do before the gigs started at 1:30pm. I ended up wandering down the road, to my favourite Cork bookstore, ‘Vibes and Scribes’. In the store, the feeling of indecision continued, with me picking up ‘Killing Bono’ (by a schoolmate of Bono’s who also tried to be a rockstar and failed miserably), an account of the worst Everest disaster in modern history, ‘Committed’ by Elizabeth Gilbert, a book that explains the meaning and origins of old phrases and superstitions, ‘The Equation of Happiness’, and a variety of others. Looking down at the pile of books that I couldn’t afford, had no time to read and had no space to take home, I decided I instead should visit the library. I put all the books back on the shelf, smiled sheepishly at the sales assistant and headed out to the library.
I found, ‘I was Bono’s Doppelganger’ in the library, the older, and much less snazzily titled copy of one of the books I had coveted in the bookstore, and started to read. After about half an hour, I went to check out a free folk fesitval gig (‘The Songs of James Joyce’… wow… SO Irish…) that was happening out the back in the Rory Gallagher Music Library. Now, up until the weekend, I had never heard of Rory Gallagher, but he’s apparently kind of a big deal. Even more so in Cork, as he was raised here (whilst being born in Co. Donegal). I had images of a friendly, soft featured, big bearded folk musician, but when I looked around the music library, I saw a long-haired, denim-wearing, dripping in sweat, 1970s rock and blues musician. It was a fairly incongruous image in a library, particularly when I was being served by a most delightfully sweet and soft-voiced 60 year old lady in a sensible cardigan and flat shoes. I decided to join the music library, and took out my Bono book, as well as a few fat volumes of Irish fiddle music and folk songs. I headed to the nearest cafe (because my levels of frustration about being stuck walking in the rain and amongst crowds were reaching a fever pitch), which just happened to be Gloria Jean’s. I ignored the cries of ‘Evil chain store!’ and ‘Owned by Hillsong!’ that were dancing around in my head and went inside to order the largest, sweetest Chai Latte I had ever had… since yesterday. I then sat and read my Bono book, taking great pleasure in his poor friend’s lack of success and his envy and resentment of Bono and U2, because his disappointed dreams were strangely appealing and soothing to my appalling mood. That is, I was soothed until a man sat in front of me (outside) and proceeded to smoke dirty cigarette after dirty cigarette, the smoke of which was billowing straight into my face through the open window. I can usually stand cigarette smoke. Not today. I was ready to throw up. I was ready to hit him over the head with my book. I was  ready to tip my chai latte over his cigarette. Instead, I took the socially acceptable route and left Gloria Jeans.
About this time, it was lunchtime and the gigs were starting again. I went back to the markets (again in the rain – my umbrella was starting to drip water onto my head, which is always a bad sign in an umbrella, and kind of defeats the purpose of carrying it around, but something habitual kept me holding it over myself, despite the drips) and listened to the ‘Sons of Delta’, a great Blues band from the UK. After a few songs, including the ever popular, ‘I’m a Man of Constant Sorrow’, I snuck away to hear the traditional song contest.
The song contest was only for singer-songwriters with a new ‘traditional’ song up their sleeves, which was frustrating for me, as I was dying to get up and have a sing. Still, it was kind of interesting to sit back and watch for once. Kind of. I don’t really want to be critical of people who are doing something I would never, and probably COULD never do, so I just won’t say anything. Songwriting is something I have only the slightest desire to do, and its also something I think I would be terribly bad at (without a lot of practice), and when you already have a wildly talented composer in the family (my younger brother Chris), it seems ridiculous to attempt to compete with him. Anything I did would just pale in comparison. So, no songwriting for me, and no being critical of those who get up the guts to do it.
With the song contest over, and another 4 hours until I was supposed to be at the next gig, I was again at a loss. The weather was miserable, so I couldn’t sit outside, and I didn’t want to sit in another cafe, having already done that several times over the past few days, and I didn’t want to go shopping, as I felt (quite rightly, I’m sure), that in my current mood I couldn’t be counted on to make reasonable and sensible decisions, and may very well buy all of the clothes in Penney’s or H&M.
I poked my head into a free art exhibition, and then finally gave in and went and got some terrible, terrible food, at the end of which I felt much, much better. The Irish love their chips. Not surprising, really, as, I’m sure you’ve heard, the Irish love their potatoes. But, the Irish have turned the humble chip into something much more. In Australia, you’re usually given a choice of chips on your usual Take Away menu, the choice goes something like: Chips – Regular, Large. If the place is very fancy, they may ask if you want chicken salt. If its a take away joint that’s leaning towards the gourmet, you may be able to get ‘Seasoned Wedges with Sour Cream and Chilli.’ This, one would think, would be enough choice for anyone. Not so in Ireland. You may get chips. You may get chips and cheese. You may get chips in gravy. You may get chips in curry sauce. You may get chips in gravy, covered in cheese. You may get chips in curry sauce, covered in cheese. You may get chips in garlic sauce. You may get chips covered in garlic sauce and smothered in cheese. On Saturday afternoon, I opted for this final, artery-clogging option. Thinking back on it now, it was pretty disgusting. But, at the time, the terrible, terrible food somehow soothed the anger within (possibly by clogging it up with fat and salt), and I headed back to the hostel in a kind of high-cholesterol haze, lay down in the TV room and read some more about how terrible it was to go to school with Bono. A strange man attempted to interrupt me at one point. He was wearing a kilt (so, presumably, Scottish). And had two cotton balls stuffed in both his ears.
‘Hello’, he said.
‘Hi’, I said, without lifting my eyes from the book.
‘Have you got hot water?’ He said.
‘I haven’t had a shower today,’ I said, getting slightly worried about whether or not he was going to leave me alone.
Of course, he had no intention of leaving me alone and started on a diatribe about how he’d complained, and it still wasn’t fixed, and it wasn’t right, it wasn’t fair, if you paid for a room, you should expect hot water, and what did they think they were playing at (during which I sighed, thinking, again, had this person never stayed in a hostel before and mentally referring him to my point of view on hostels telepathically addressed to the German girl the night before). I was already in a foul mood (as we have established), which was being made worse by the fact that he wasn’t picking up on my VERY OBVIOUS visual cues that I had no desire to talk to him, and that he should LEAVE ME ALONE.
However, he then started on a rant about Australians. And of how they think they can just come over and take what they want and just destroy the place. I can only think he meant the Kiwis that obviously ran the bar (hence the 5 All Blacks flags outside), as I couldn’t see how his lack of hot water in the hostel was directly related to Australia (Bad management of the Murray-Darling Basin? The carbon tax? Too many Aussie backpackers?), but I suddenly saw an easy way of getting this man to shut up. I looked up from my book, fixed him with a glare and growled, ‘I’m an Australian.’ He immediately backtracked, said he hadn’t meant it that way, and it was all just, you know and that was all and no harm and mumble, mumble, mumble, at which point I fixed him with another look and said, ‘I’m just trying to read my book’, which finally got him to leave me alone. I decided to move to my bed and continue the book there.
After a short, chip-induced snooze, I woke up and headed out to the next gig. I had been feeling much better, until I got to the venue. I opted not to get a drink, as I could see people gathering at the doors already. I joined the queue, and not long after, the double doors were opened. We shuffled in. And then we stopped again at the bottom of a flight of stairs. At the top of these stairs was the actual entrance to the venue, which was being barricaded by folk festival staff. My rage knew no bounds. I hate standing around aimlessly. I hate queues when I’m tired, when I have nothing to read. I hate not knowing what is going on. I hate feeling like a fool. And, at that point in time, all these things were combining. Add that to the occasional staff and customers who had to push past to get to the loos (also at the top of the stairs), and a little girl who stepped on my toe (HOW DARE SHE), and by the time we were allowed into the venue, I was ready to punch someone. No, everyone. One after the other. Oh, how satisfying.
Instead, I got myself a very sugary cider and found a seat. My rage was now directed towards the empty stage. After about 10 minutes of sitting around, waiting, a man came towards me. He asked me if the seat next to me was taken. I said it wasn’t. He then checked if the seat in front of me was taken. It wasn’t. He started to beckon someone over. I asked him if he was with someone and he said he was. I asked if he would like me to move so that he and his wife could sit together. Now, to me, that is a fairly standard thing to offer, but this man acted as if I had just volunteered to feed and house his 20 homeless grandchildren. He said that I was so kind, so nice, and when his wife got there, he reiterated to her how kind and nice I had been, and then insisted on buying me another, ridiculously sugary cider. My mood began to brighten. And, it just goes to show, that if you actually take the opportunity to reach out to people, to be kind, to talk to them, they will generally always return the favor (unless, of course, they are reading a book and you unintentionally insult their homeland). The gig was another corker, by the amusingly named, ‘Folk the Recession’, a line-up of very talented musicians from all over the country and from a variety of different bands.
This time I went straight back to the hostel and fell into bed as soon as I got there. I was exhausted and I was still a little sad, and I didn’t think staying up later, by myself, and drinking was going to help matters.
After a long, 10 hour sleep, I woke up feeling much better. After a Skype conversation with my Dad, and tea in the loveliest, old-fashioned, Sinatra-playing tea-room in Cork (Fellini’s), I headed off to see the Ceili Mor, which was being held, in the rain, on the Grand Parade. For those of you who don’t know, a Ceili Mor is a community dance. So, they were teaching everyone all sorts of Irish country dances, similar to the barn dances we used to learn at school. I normally love these sorts of things (guilty admission: I loved them at school, though I would never have admitted that to anyone, it was just way too uncool), but I was by myself, and I didn’t want to go and dance with someone I didn’t know, so I instead watched happily for an hour from the sidelines. There was then an excerpt from ‘Pulses of Tradition’, a Riverdance-inspired version of the Ceili Mor for tourists that would be on offer in Cork from 2012. This was very much not my thing. The thing I like about a Ceili Mor and folk in general, is the feeling of community that it gives. I love that old grannies and 5 year old kids are dancing together, and maybe they’re not getting all the steps right, but they’re having a great time while they’re screwing it all up. Things like ‘Pulses of Tradition’, whilst very pretty, just kind of bore me. Plus, the costumes they had clashed terribly. Peach dresses on the girls and bright purple shirts on the boys? Seriously?
So, I wandered off in search of Indian food and a bus home. It was an up and down weekend, and I was exhausted. The festival itself was lovely, but I think, after 3 weeks of being in Kinsale, my Bandon au pair friends mainly gone home, no Creative Connections on a regular basis, and my director being in Australia, I’ve gotten kind of lonely and sad again. I’m in the process of rectifying this, however, and have made a few connections with au pairs in the area. Also, Creative Connections is starting back this week, so I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone again and doing some more art.
Thank God for art!


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