Festival of the Fires launched
Thousands of motorists and residents in towns and villages across the midlands were forgiven for thinking the sky was on fire over the May Bank Holiday, as a series of massive hill top fires turned out to be part of an elaborate and spectacular festival launch.
Across counties Westmeath, Offaly, Longford, Roscommon, Meath and Laois the sky was ablaze when over a dozen midlands hill tops were ignited as part of the launch of Festival of the Fires, a new arts and music festival set to take place on the historic Hill of Uisneach in May 2010. Alongside motorways and across a warren of local and regional roads, shocked motorists pulled over in disbelief as huge fires rose into the night sky. Many thousands of residents across the midlands reported fires to their local fire and Garda stations, thinking Ireland had succumbed to the ravages of wild bush-fires.
However, the fires had been ignited by festival organisers with the permission of land owners and local authorities in response to a central fire on the summit of the Hill of Uisneach, where hundreds of VIPs and invited guests gathered for the launch.
Festival of the Fires is a rebirth of the original Bealtaine festival - Europe’s oldest recorded festival and fair, an event which even Caesar noted as taking place at the Hill of Uisneach, then the centre of Gaul. As part of the original festival fires were ignited throughout the country in response to a central Uisneach fire, creating a unique ‘fire eye’ across Éireann. This fire–eye was partially reopened over the May Bank Holiday for the festival launch with hilltop fires lit across nine counties.
Festival organiser Paddy Dunning of Grouse Lodge Recording Studios, which in recent years has housed artists such as Michael Jackson and REM, said even greater things are to come in 2010. “This will be a national arts festival, and we intend to light fires on all 32 of the country’s highest peaks as part of it. We want to spark the Irish imagination with a gathering, and a festival unlike any other.”
The festival will take place over the May Bank Holiday weekend in 2010. Mr Dunning revealed that it will be a cultural celebration designed for national and international audiences created through the alchemy of arts, ceremony, theatre, literature, music, poetry, holistic health, traditional crafts, food and drink, the environment and sustainability. It will feature the collective talents of artists, performers, craftspeople and hundreds more participants from Ireland and beyond, and it will culminate in the lighting of the great national fire. Mr Dunning used the platform of the launch to call on artists to make submissions for the festival.
He revealed that festival villages sympathetic to the hillside and surrounding environment will house the body and soul of the festival but there will also be stages and installations dotted all over the hillside.
There will also be a wide-scale promotion of eco-tourism and sustainable living at home and abroad at the festival. Irish culture will be to the fore, but reflecting the fact that the original fairs on Uisneach were a worldwide event (coins from ancient Afghanistan have been found nearby), embassies from around the world will be represented.
Music to suit all ages and tastes, from orchestral, classical and traditional to rock, pop and folk will be central to the three-day festival. Unique collaborations between international and Irish artists will be encouraged and big names will be playing stripped-down, intimate and exclusive shows.
Mr Dunning said the aim is to create a wide-reaching family-friendly and eco-friendly festival.
Among those in attendance at the launch were Jerry Fish (back in the Irish Top Ten with his new album), Mundy, Kíla, and Liam O’Maonlaoi, as well as hundreds of leading lights from the arts and cultural world. Irish Museum and many of the countries tourism chiefs were also there to the festival their enthusiastic backing. Electric Picnic founder John Reynolds was also in attendance. Indeed, Festival of the Fires is utilizing the expertise of people behind the Electric Picnic, Glastonbury and the legendary Burning Man festival in California to create a spectacle never-before-seen in modern Ireland.
Situated at the exact geographic centre of the country between the towns of Mullingar and Athlone, the Hill of Uisneach is said to be the most significant and sacred sites in the country with a history unlike any other. Dozens of ancient texts verify Uisneach as being the ancient political, religious, cultural, economical and social heart of Éireann and the roots of this enigmatic hill stretch back beyond recorded history into ancient mythology. It features in practically every recorded era of Irish history too.
Uisneach has been placed in the same league as the Hill of Tara in Meath, but it may be more significant than its neighbour. As well as being the home of the Goddess Ériu, after whom the country is named, the ancient seat of the Kings of Meath was first situated at Uisneach and Ireland as we know it today was divided and carved from its hillside. It was also a place of ritual – from cattle rituals to other ‘May Day’ assemblies such as the ancient fire festival, Bealtaine. Samhain and Lughnasadh (Lúnasa) also have their origins on the Westmeath hill.
St. Patrick was among its many residents, spending some time there in the 5th century. Historic Irish figures such as Brian Boru, Eamon de Valera, Daniel O’Connell, Saint Bridget, Padraig Pearse, Fionn Mac Chumaill and many of the nation’s most (in)famous clans all have bona fide links to the Hill. Author James Joyce and pop star Michael Jackson were both left in awe when they visited in more recent years.
Some forty features spanning five millennia remain on the slopes of Uisneach, the most famous being Aill na Mireann (The Stone of Divisions), where the four provinces historically met. Also known as the Catstone, it is under this massive stone where Ériu is buried. Other features include two horse figures, carved into its hillside. It is also recorded that the stones used to build Stonehenge came from Uisneach.
From its summit one can clearly see twenty counties, with the Spire in Dublin’s O’Connell Street one easy-to-pinpoint landmark.
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