Earagail Arts Festival

Who wouldn't want to go to Donegal? asks artistic director Paul Brown. Watch clips from the Earagail Arts Festival's 2009 parade in Letterkenny below

Asked if he thinks the high proportion of Northern Irish audience members at the Earagail Arts Festival in Donegal is a by product of the general exodus during the ‘Marching Season’, artistic director Paul Brown demurs.

‘I don’t know. I think it’s just that it is the holidays and the fact the sterling is strong against the euro. Plus we have so many events on, a lot of them free and family oriented. Not to mention that we have the best beaches in the world.’

He pauses. ‘Who wouldn’t want to come?’

Brown chuckles when he admits that, just as the 15% of Northern Irish festival goers in 2009 may have attended Earagail by chance, he got into festival administration by a roundabout route. ‘My background is in music. In fact I worked in Belfast a lot,’ he explains, listing an impressive list of credentials that include working with Moving on Music and founding the music festival that was to become Oscillations.

Even over the phone you can hear the shrug in his voice as he says, ‘Then I moved to Donegal with my family, my wife is from here, and an opportunity to work for the Earagail Arts Festival came up. It was too good an opportunity to pass up.’

It wasn’t Brown’s first experience with Earagail. He had worked as a music consultant for them before and, as he points out, music has always been a core part of the festival’s programming.

It was a good fit for him and Brown’s passion for the festival is obvious and contagious. ‘It’s a unique festival,’ he explains. ‘The programming takes place across Donegal, in church halls and community venues. We take the festival out to the public.’

This year the festival includes over 130 acts from around the world, with a range of folk and world music. ‘We’re particularly proud of our Made in Donegal strand,’ Brown says. ‘It puts the spotlight on local artist and puts them on stage with some international stars.’

One example of this is the concert that puts local folk musicians The Henry Girls on stage with the West Virginian bluegrass band The Fox Hunt. ‘It combines Irish folk and bluegrass to create contemporary roots music.’

Other acts at the festival include Divine Comedy’s frontman Neil Hannon, a production by Red Moon Theatre, a US company who performed at the White House for President Obama and a series of drive-in film screenings in National Forests across Donegal.

‘We’ll be showing American Werewolf in London,’ Brown says. It sounds like he’s grinning over the phone. The drive-in screenings might not be the most glamorous element of the festival, but Brown is obviously very fond of them. ‘One year we had a showing of Jaws on the beach,’ he remembers. ‘The screen arrived 27 hours late and we only had 30 minutes to put it up but it was still a great night. People came in costume or with inflatable sharks and sat in the pitch dark watching a film screen that was practically in the ocean.’

He adds that you have to plan ahead for things not going according to plan with a festival the size and scope of Earagail. ‘Earagail is synonymous with the Donegal countryside. We are presenting performances on mountains and forests. You have to expect some logistical problems.’

This year the festival is also hosting an inaugural symposium on Donegal Fiddle Music. There will be a series of seminars, talks by fiddler and academic Liz Doherty and a celebration of the life and musical contribution of Johnny Doherty. Most importantly though, Brown stresses, is that there are going to be plenty of sessions. ‘We don’t want it to be too academic,’ he explains. ‘We want people to come and enjoy the music.’

The Earagail Festival runs from July 3 - 18. To see the programme and book tickets go to their website.

Tammy Moore