For years, we vacationed in the village of Courtmacsherry, Ireland and each year we heard the same lament, “Too bad you can’t stay for the festival. It’s the best week to visit.” In my mind, I constructed a mental image: carnival rides, face painting, funnel cakes, a ring toss games where—if you played long enough—you carted off a five-foot tall stuffed Panda bear.
Last week, we finally attended the Harbour Festival. My mental image stood corrected. Here’s a sample of the events:
- Balloon release
- Sandcastle design
- Kiddies disco
- Pub quiz
- Kite making
- Dog show
- Cupcake decorating
- Chalk drawing
- Greasy poll competition
- Pillow fights
You get the idea.
The festival played out over the course of 10 days. And for those 10 days, all anyone talked about in Courtmacsherry was the festival: population 500, every person accounted for. The only indication that this was a special time was the presence of a second fish and chips fry truck pulled up by the roadside.
The first event I attended was kite making, which took place in the community center. Toddlers through teens, parents and neighbors fastened together meager kites, the type I built as a kid at my great-grandmother’s kitchen table with day-old newspaper and a few sticks cut from an oak tree, a length of twin, and snippets of rag for the tail. Those childhood kites never flew too high, and the Courtmacsherry kites were no different.
Here, fathers ran with children in their arms, a kite bobbing a few feet above their heads. The toddlers sat on the grass and played with the string. The older kids tried to hoist their kites alone. One boy floated his kite 15 feet in the air, and that was the best effort I saw. A gentle rain started, but no one seemed to notice. It’s Ireland.
In the community center the next day, a reunion was held. Prior to the mid-1970s, the center was a two-room school house. No one seemed to give a whit about getting their photo taken, too busy laughing and eating and talking the way friends do after a decades-long absence or a half century of neighborly coexistence. But Pat had been asked to corral this tribe and recreate a photograph from 50 years ago. Eventually he managed to snap this.
Before he left, a woman reminded him, “Make sure you come to Regatta Day Saturday. That’s the highlight!”
By 3 in the afternoon of Regatta Day, the pier was lined with a few hundred people, drinkers swelled out of the pubs and into the street, and cars nudged down the single road that cuts between the straight-shot village and Courtmacsherry Bay.
The announcer called out, “The pillow fights will commence shortly,” and sure enough, I noticed a 20 foot-pole sticking out from the end of the pier. Two boys scooched halfway out over the water, each with a hefty pillow case clutched in their fist. When the whistle blew, they commenced to pummeling their opponent about the head and face. One boy, with a 15-pound weight disadvantage, had the good sense to fall off after the first hit, but others clung to the pole and continued to swing even once hanging upside down, clutching the pole between clasped legs. Eventually, one of the combatants was knocked into the water at which point the other dove in. The next pair slid into place.
After thirty minutes of this, the battles waned and the pole was coated with grease. Kids raced out in turn, attempting to grab the flag fluttering from the tip. Most slipped and fell well short of the goal, but occasionally one would grab the flag, generally while catapulting through the air. To me, the event seemed fraught with safety concerns, but the crowd cheered, nonplussed. After a while, I returned home.
Sunday evening, we watched the closing fireworks from our bedroom window. The rain paused shortly before ten. Then for five minutes, rockets crested just above the top of the trees. Swoosh. Pop. Pause. Swoosh. Pop. As the last one exploded, car horns honked and the crowd cheered.
Categories: Western Europe