Festivals are fabulous. In Ireland, we have 143 of them every week.
Some of them are small, such as the little-known Toenail Clipping Festival, which takes place in a short field in Leitrim on the first Friday of February at 11 o’clock.
Some are larger, such as the annual feast of St. Patrick, which has now managed to stretch to 2 days either side of the 17th of March each year, kick-starts the tourist season, tells the country to wake the feck up, and causes the island of Ireland to sink just a little into the sea as 16 million tourists arrive to paint odd things on their faces and drink more than the rest of the country does in a year.
Suffice to say there are so many festivals, new and long-established, that some of them are struggling to stand out amongst the crowd.
There are now 5 sizeable literary festivals in Dublin alone, all just a bit too similar and vying for space.
The Dublin Writers Festival (DWF), which in 2014 celebrated its 16th year, must have been pretty hacked off at the Dublin Book Festival (DBF) coming along in 2005, surely trying to steal its thunder.
God only knows what either of them thought of the Mountains To Sea (MTS) book festival, which founded itself in 2009 in Dun Laoghaire, a southern administrative sub-division of County Dublin which often behaves like it would like independence.
And then came the Dalkey Book Festival, which although technically in the same administrative district as Mountains To Sea, decided it needed its own book festival in 2010, seemingly because at least 2 writers (and Bono) were living in its picturesque environs.
[Sadly, Dalkey’s greatest ever literary resident, the late great Maeve Binchy, is no longer with us. I would have no objections to an entire literary festival for Maeve’s body of work alone. People could eat in a pop-up Quentins, go to ‘50s and ‘60s-themed parties and take tours into the city centre on buses, joyfully transcribing the conversations of the charmingly ordinary folks around them. Now that would be a book festival worth going to.]
By 2012, it was obvious that Dublin didn’t have enough book festivals, so the Red Line Book Festival was set up by South Dublin County Libraries, in several different places so that they couldn’t be accused of being locationist (unless you live on the Northside).
By 2014, it must have been ugly. Picture the scene.
Dublin. An alleyway. Dusk. Rival gangs are patrolling the streets, looking for punters.
Dublin Book Festival: Get out of my way!
Dublin Writers Festival: No, you back off! You wouldn’t be here at all if not for us. We were here first.
DBF: That’s disingenuous.
DWF: Ooh! Big word. Did you look it up in a book? We write them, you know.
DBF: Okay, then: shitebucket. How’s that for a big word?
DWF: Ssssh! It’s Mountains To Sea!
Mountains To Sea: Like, hellllooooo.
DWF: Oh, for feck’s sake.
MTS: I’ve got some, like, reallllly cooooool stuff this year; it’s like, amahaaaayzing.
DBF [to DWF]: Do you want to deck him, or will I?
Dalkey: Hi Guys! OMG, soooo good to see you. Did you hear who we got this year?
DBF: No, of course we didn’t. Nobody ever does.
DWF: Hey – who’s this coming now? He’s all over the place.
Red Line: Howzitgoin’.
DBF: Ah here, you’re just taking the piss.
DWF: Screw you guys. I’m off to change my name. I’m going global, and you lot can all shag off.
MTS [to Dalkey]: Can he do that?
Dalkey: How should I know? I don’t even know what I’m doing.
With so many players on such a teeny tiny pitch, it became necessary to change the game. Which is exactly what two of them did.
So, What’s The Scene in 2015?
Mountains to Sea brought itself forward from September to March – nothing like being the first to kick-start the season. Getting in right after Paddy’s Day is a gutsy move.
But not half as gutsy as May’s Dublin Writer’s Festival, which has only gone and changed its name to the International Literature Festival Dublin (ILF Dublin, if you please). Just like the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival before it (JDIFF, it insists), it must believe that the solution to overpopulation is emigration: or at least in this case, staying where you are, but pretending you’re abroad.
And yet, there must still be room for an International Book Festival of Dublin and the Dublin International Literary Festival of Um, Literature. Does this remind anyone else of the Judean People’s Front? No? The People’s Front Of Judea, then?
Of course we, as a population of festival-goers, ticket-buyers, course bookers and merchandise collectors, could fight back by arranging a big Dublin Festival of NOTHING.
This will be an opportunity for Irish people to go nowhere while nothing is happening, nothing is celebrated, and nobody cares. Mind you, if it proves so popular that a rival Dublin Nihilist’s Festival arrives on the scene, there’s going to be a LOT of negative energy.
What’s going on in your neck of the woods?