‘Park anywhere you want in that field there’ says the welcoming guy at the gate. Dunderry Park in Co. Meath is the venue for the Spirit of Folk festival and I’m instantly charmed by the abundance of trees, gentle traffic and warm welcomes. Storytelling, soul seminars, sound healing and music stages are on the itinerary for the fifth annual festival in the shamanic headquarters of Ireland, located a stones throw from the ancient sites of Newgrange and the Hill of Tara.
Within twenty minutes I’m sitting in the candle lit story telling cave with my friend Carol and storyteller Neil Horgan is spinning a yarn to a captive circle of ears. We’re now on Camino in Spain along with Pat from Tipperary, a couple from England and an assortment of entertaining characters hiking to Santiago de Compostela.
Saturday is off to a funny start with Laughter Yoga at 10 am. The well structured hour starts with a dance and ends with everyone in stitches. Teacher Angie Kinsella says fifteen minutes laughter a day is ample as a preventative medicine. A more serious session ensues as a row of cross legged, white clad yogis sit under bunting that reads ‘Kundalini Yoga’. ‘Now close your eyes and breath’ says the voice. I feel the laughter rising, find my shoes and quietly depart.
Within minutes I’m face down in a massage chair and Fiona Dorey from Essence Therapy is working wonders on my neck and head, to the soundtrack of gongs next door. The gong bath is a communal affair. Wrapped in blankets and lying on the ground, participants go on a deep journey as an assortment of gong instruments are played live by a musical healer. Peter Lone Wolf is fully booked for the mother drum healing sessions. People lie on a sheepskin rug underneath the giant drum as he beats to the individual’s vibrations.
The Living history sign takes me to a medieval encampment, with a battle re-enactment in full swing. The ferocity of the combat makes me wonder whether they are brilliant actors or actually serious.
Next door, Newgrange willow weaver Ronan Russell is making a basket outside his wattle and daub dwelling. Elaine’s willow race horse is a commission for a well known jockey’s garden.
Further up the field Patsy Preston’s recycled cable clydesdale horse is an impressive work of art.
Some great music options
Beside the drumming teepee, Chris Bowring from Leitrim is a wizard at weaving and wood turning. Girls are learning to make willow rattles and a young lad on the lithe is turning a mushroom spinning top. Wooden bowls, straw egg baskets and crop dollies which protect the spirit of the grain over winter are amongst the curious creations being made over the weekend.
Equally curious is the line up of bands, most of whom I’ve never heard of apart from Mick Flannery and Moxie. Dublin music venue, Whelans, are running the main stage and the last act on Saturday night is the oddly named Bunoscionn GAA Disco. Bunoscionn is the Gaelic for upside down and this group certainly has a unique way of turning music on it’s head. A random mix of eighties and nineties pop classics played by a traditional Irish band has the entire festival high on song and dance.
Afterwards in the Hall of Fame tent, Electric Picnic’s Gramophone Disco spin vinyl into the wee hours, making this a bopping good night. The ancestors at nearby Newgrange and Tara are surely dancing in their graves this weekend.
Fireside chats and R&R
Back in the campsite our caravanning neighbours are winding down with fireside chat and tunes. Soul seminars, fairy journeys, meeting the man dressed as a tree, holding eagles with the falconer and eating the most amazing pie and mash are just some of the experiences discussed.
Spirit of Folk is a family and dog friendly festival and I have to admit I was dubious about having mutts in the mix. However, I haven’t set foot in a poop or heard a bark all weekend. If anything the pooches add to the ancient mystic magic of the eclectic event and I’m expecting Cuchulain and his hound to appear any minute. The laid back guy at the gate set the tone on Friday and two days later the Dunderry charm hasn’t abated. Roll on Spirit of Folk 2016.
Put Spirit of Folk on your Irish festival list for 2016
The Spirit of Folk Festival really is a slice of everything you want in an Irish festival, and it’s held near one of the most popular tourist areas in Ireland – Newgrange! Visit spiritoffolk.com for more information on the festival, and view the latest hotel deals in Meath here.