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Column: The recession has brought my community together – and guess what we created?

Necessity is the mother of invention, a fact the small community of Kilfinane in Co Limerick knows well. With young people leaving in search of work, townspeople have come together to create a special event in the shadow of the Ballyhoura mountains.

Deirdre O'Shaughnessy

MOST OF US are proud, for one reason or another, of where we come from. My home town (we’re sensitive about this, it has a charter and is therefore a town, not a village) of Kilfinane, high up in the Ballyhoura mountains, overlooking Co Limerick and the Golden Vale, might not look like much.

It’s got more than one street, as a friend remarked in surprise when we drove through, recently. The side streets have grand names, like Castle Street and Barrack Street, while we even have our own West End, and a cast of characters to match.

It’s picturesque. Nestled in the mountains and surrounded by forest, it’s in a bit of a no man’s land – that squiggly bit of Limerick stuck in between the enemy territory of Cork and Tipperary, which gets shunted between constituencies every time there’s a boundary review.

Kilfinane is unique. Always has been.

Memories of my home town

When standardised time was brought in, the highest village in Co Limerick decided enough was enough. This new fangled nonsense had to stop. So, for a period, there was Greenwich Mean Time, Pacific Standard Time… and Kilfinane Time. It’s got its own rhythm.

I remember lying awake on Monday mornings and listening to the farmers outside on the street from 5.30am, as they brought their milk to the creamery. I remember Harvest Festivals in the sultry last week of August, that week like summer’s twilight, before school returns and ordinary life resumes, featuring luminaries like Stockton’s Wing playing on lorry-container stages on a bustling main street.

I remember busloads of German tourists on walking holidays, groups of French firemen on exchanges, and flocks of visiting Ethiopians learning about best practice in dairy. When I heard the Russian ladies were coming, my seven year old imagination went into overdrive – exotic princesses, caviar, husky dogs and Bond villains. I wasn’t expecting the middle-aged, overawed lady farmers in faded Levis who filled their suitcases with Kinder Eggs before returning home to glasnost and perestroika.

The Celtic Tiger influence

Later, during the Celtic Tiger years, new houses – fabulous houses, mansions even – sprang up around the town. New faces appeared from all over the world and with all sorts of stories, the cornerstone was finally laid for a new primary school to replace the freezing, 100 year old building with outdoor toilets we loved to hate. (I’ve always felt that school with its ancient, burbling radiators and old milk smell, gave a useful Angela’s Ashes quality to my childhood, essential to a proper writer). But there were no festivals.

Recessions seem to make the place thrive. Necessity is the mother of invention, they say, and it has brought the community together again, over the past few years. Families with long histories – a butcher whose family’s fed the village for nearly 200 years and a ‘blow-in’ graphic designer with an English accent and a genius for branding – are teaming up to keep the life in a place the youth has largely left.

The latest incarnation of a solidity of spirit

Like everywhere in rural Ireland, it’s a struggle now to field a team. The first year of Rocky Mayhem was like a school reunion, all of us thrilled with the novelty. The second year most of those I’d met first time around had left for Perth, or Sydney, or London. For year three, ironically the year of the Gathering, we know there will be fewer still. The organising committee know this, because their children are the ones going. So this year, the wider world is invited to see what Kilfinane has to offer. Implored, even.

The harvest festival of the old days is dead and gone, but it’s been replaced with mayhem. Rocky Mayhem (named for the nearby Blackrock mountain, one of the peaks of the Ballyhouras), is the latest incarnation of a solidity of spirit and a determination to find its own rhythm that has seen Kilfinane survive and, sometimes, thrive for a thousand years.

This year, the third, Damien Dempsey will headline a very unique festival. With quite literally something for everyone – Brendan Grace and Jimmy Buckley for a more mature audience, local rock legends Handipak for the home crowd – so far, so typical country festival. But the rock night – previously featuring Delorentos, and Ham Sandwich – is something special.

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No fancy food, no flame eaters, no mud – just the real deal

Where else but Kilfinane would you find a music festival taking place in a funeral home? Where a nun – Sr Patricia, my old business studies teacher, swimming instructor and choir mistress, and the backbone of almost every community initiative that happens – takes the money on the door? Where the aforementioned local butcher and the county council water services man don hi vis vests and assume traffic control duties, and where the school caretaker is in charge of logistics?

There’s no fancy food, no flame eaters, and no mud. The backyard of McCarthy’s funeral home (and pub, if you’re looking for a pre-gig pint) is tarmacked, walled, and it’ll have a fully stocked bar, proper security, and excellent acoustics.

They can’t have imagined when they paved it for the school buses and the hearse that Damien Dempsey would sing all his cares away on stage in a marquee there, that the Meteor Award winning Riptide Movement would play to a 1200 strong crowd there, and that they’d be supported by Cast of Cheers and Going 90.

Non-profit and non-commercial

Rocky Mayhem is non-profit and non-commercial. Any money raised goes to local causes or is ploughed into the next year’s festival. Think of it as a tiny economic stimulus package, where you can see some of Ireland’s best live acts up close and personal without all the shiny packaging, queueing and aggro of bigger gigs.

So, if you’re thinking about your festival options this year, forget about paying 100 euro to stand in the rain in an enormous field full of drunken teenagers. Or in a soulless venue where all you can hear is auto tuning and where you can’t move for glow sticks and branded t-shirts. Rocky Mayhem’s the real deal. Tickets for the rock night are priced at 20 euro. Camping in the village is just 5 euro. Come along and get a taste of what we’re so proud of.

Damien Dempsey, the Riptide Movement, Cast of Cheers and Going 90 will play Rocky Mayhem on 29 June. See rockymayhem.ie or ballyhoura.com for tickets or for more information on Rocky Mayhem or the Ballyhoura area.

About the author:

Deirdre O'Shaughnessy

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