It is about 3.30 on Sunday afternoon and Maeve Sweeney, production manager with Niall Cranney for Earagail Arts Festival, is taking a seat at Rockhill House grounds for maybe the first time since the festival crew landed early that morning.
“I have 20 missed calls on my phone,” she said. Since this morning? “In the last two hours.”
This past weekend was a busy one at Rockhill House, the former home of the 28th Infantry Battalion, Irish Defence Forces, which sits on 29 acres just outside of Letterkenny. Earagail Arts held several major events there over the festival’s opening weekend, transforming the former barracks into an ocean of colour, performance, food, culture, music and entertainment.
There was Amococo, the inflatable, monumental luminarium produced by Architects of Air, which opened on Saturday and runs through Friday, July 13th; the Feast of the Senses on Saturday night, featuring Little John Nee, musical groups Hat Fitz & Cara Robinson and I See Hawks in LA, and a three-course supper provided by Rathmullan House; and Sunday’s Big Day Out at Rockhill House, which included a Global Village Fete, an Asian Food and Culture Festival, a carousel, swingboats, vintage games, street performers and music.
After all the months of work and planning, Maeve said it was rather emotional to see everything come together so well. She laughed when she recalled tearing up a bit when Mohan’s Funfairs of Co. Armagh arrived with their swingboats, those colourful, flying gondolas pulled through the air by equal forces.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, they’re actually here,’” she said.
The swingboats, carousel and games got a workout on Sunday, and 700 people toured the luminarium. Saturday night’s Feast of the Senses entertained a sell-out crowd of 130 people, and despite a wet start on Sunday, the skies dried and the Big Day Out drew people of all ages throughout the day.
“That’s the thing about festivals,” Maeve said. “I love how you always meet local people. The support of local people is really fundamental to the festival. It means so much to us in the festival to see that.”
Paul Brown is the festival director, programming the extensive schedule of theatre; outdoor, family and children’s events; music, comedy and dance, spoken word, visual arts and workshops for Earagail Arts, which runs July 7th to 22nd. The production team – Maeve, Niall and production assistant Paul Rooney – make the events happen, with the assistance of “loads of wonderful volunteers”, Maeve said. They have a team of about 50 volunteers, working as stewards, or distributing posters and leaflets, or doing any number of other things that keep events running smoothly.
“We have some amazing volunteers,” Maeve said. “We couldn’t do it without them.”
She said they were also grateful to Eamonn Boyle of Donegal County Council, Letterkenny Mayor, Cllr. Dessie Larkin and Michael Heaney, council director of service for community, culture and planning. Earagail Arts, the Department of Defence and the county council had been “liaising together to make this event happen,” Maeve said, calling the collaboration, “a very successful working venture”.
Maeve lives in Ramelton with her husband, journalist and film-maker Derek O’Connor, and their children, Aoife, 15, and Anthony, 10. She is originally from Dungloe – “my family has been in Dungloe for like a million years,” she said – and her mother is from Ranafast. She and Derek lived in Dublin for 10 years and New York for two years before returning to Donegal. Maeve has worked as a stage and production manager in Ireland and New York, and also led drama workshops.
Viewers of Pat Kenny’s RTÉ programme, “The Frontline”, will be familiar with some of Derek’s work. He is one-half of the Doris-Magee film-making duo that produces the funny and often biting short films that appeared on “The Frontline”; Maeve does music composition for the films. Derek also hosts the “Crash Cabaret” series at An Grianán Theatre in Letterkenny – a Crash Cabaret Burlesque Spectacular on Friday, July 13th, is part of Earagail Arts.
There are a lot of big shows during the Earagail Arts fortnight, and Maeve rattled off a list – Boubacar Traoré, one of Mali’s finest musicians, will play a before a sold-out crowd on July 12th at the Regional Cultural Centre in Letterkenny. The Puja spectacle, a heady mix of processional sculpture, aerial acrobatics, dancing fire, shadow play, illuminated installation, music, soundscape and aromas presented by LUXe on Saturday, July 21st at Fort Dunree, Buncrana -- well, “that’s going to be huge,” Maeve said.
She is also looking forward to “The Golden Dragon”, a tragic-comic take on globalization set in a local takeaway and presented July 10th-12th at An Grianán by Actors Touring Company and Drum Theatre Plymouth in association with Earagail Arts and Clonmel Junction Festival.
Then there is “The Glebe Gathering”, two big family days out at Glebe House and Gardens, Churchill, that will include workshops, crafts, street performers and circus, and a lunch menu available from Rathmullan House’s outdoor catering.
“We expected 600 people last year and 3,000 turned up,” she said. So this year Earagail Arts is holding the crowd-pleasing family event over two days.
Just before that, on July 14th and 15th, the Glebe Cultural Summit 2012 brings together writers, performers and directors to Glebe House and Gallery for two days of discussion on the arts and society, with well-known participants exploring the stories we tell ourselves through the arts.
“Field Day Out”, on July 21st at An Grianán Theatre, staged readings of two classic plays from the Field Day canon, featuring an ensemble led by Declan Conlon and Gerard McSorley, “will be really lovely – almost like a reunion of Field Day people,” Maeve said. And Flann O’Brien’s “The Third Policeman”, on July 22nd at An Grianán Theatre, narrated by Stephen Rea with music composed by Colin Reid -- “That’s a big event,” she said.
There’s more on than can be recounted here, but the full festival programme is on line at www.eaf.ie.
Waves of people kept coming up the long, winding lane to Rockhill House, some walking from the car park in the field on the main road, some taking the shuttle buses that travelled back and forth all day.
This was the culmination of the months of preparation that always go into the festival. Countless details must be organised before the first event begins.
“You’re working on this to put it in place, to get it in place, and then you open up and people come,” Maeve said. “It’s so wonderful to see people from all over Donegal who made the journey here today.
“That’s what it’s for,” she said.