Article by Margaret Scully
Even the mention of the word picnic conjures up romantic images of al fresco dining in pretty places. It’s the first weekend in September and I’m delighted to be Electric Picnic bound. The annual music, arts and food festival is held on the gorgeous grounds of the Stradbally Estate in Co. Laois. Stradbally is a good neck of the woods for a picnic any time of year and after the festival I will explore the surrounding environs. The scenic fortress seat of the ancient Kings of Laois and a floating al fresco picnic are on the agenda.
Foodie Paradise at Electric Picnic
Arriving on Friday amid a backlog of slow moving festival traffic is far from romantic. Big names like Blur and Grace Jones are headlining this year, and have attracted record crowds. Feeding 50,000 is no mean feat and I’m wondering if the festival’s boutique reputation will survive. Skipping past the pumping Electric Arena music tent, I head straight for the low key Mindfield area, which is the hub of spoken word performance, the science gallery, the Irish language tent and the Theatre of Food. Michelin chef’s, TV cooks and culinary authors are on the line-up. My first morsel is Martin Shanahan’s seafood salad served in a shell.
Master butcher Ed Hick, baker Patrick Ryan and brewer Peter Reynier are introducing quirky creations from their collaboration for this year’s event. ‘Pain au pudding’ is a savoury take on the chocolate croissant using Hick’s black pudding. Wicklow Wolf Beer is served in bread cups baked in terracotta flower pots and one punter isn’t paying attention and takes a bite out of the lard and wheat beer soap.
Walking around the music arenas I’m spoiled for culinary choice. Thai curry from Kanum, a burrito from Flaming Cactus, pie and mash from Pieminister or the Mc Kennas’ guide ‘Best Festival Food’ award winning curry from Kinara kitchen? It’s getting cold outside so I head for the big red Eco Bus, parked beside the Jerry Fish stage at the entrance to Trailer Park. The Beef Curry and Nan goes down a treat in the cosy craic of the upstairs dining area.
I start Sunday on a healthy note with a probiotic kefir mocktail from My Goodness in the Global Green. Next door in the Green Crafts area Gary Dalton at All Fired Up is serving superb pizza and signing copies of his book on how to build your own clay oven at home.
Exploring Picnic Areas Around Oughvale Woodlands
The fabulous festival ends too fast and a wander around the Oughvale woodland is just what the doctor ordered. Five minutes drive away, on the N80 Stradbally to Carlow road, the car park picnic tables are perfect for a flask and sandwiches. Picnic provisions are easily procured in Stradbally. Phelan’s colourful little Grandstand shop is extremely hospitable and serves excellent rolls and sandwiches. Meat for the barbecue is found at the friendly Feighrey butchers on Main Street.
Meat would definitely have been on the menu when the high Kings of Laois were living on the Rock of Dunamaise prior to the Viking invasion of 845 AD. Located on the N80 towards Portlaoise, the impressive outcrop is easily reached from a car park. Entrance is free and the ancient site offers panoramic views over surrounding counties.
The Grand Canal village of Vicarstown is visible from the rock and only a ten minute drive away. Having booked in advance we arrive with picnic in hand for a Barrowline barge trip. Cruising along the serene canal, encircled by nature, is the perfect setting for a glass of wine and anti-pasta from a nearby German outlet. Barge captain Philip Crean informs us that 160 species of bird inhabit the area including the kingfisher and heron we spot.
Onwards to Fisherstown
From Fisherstown Bridge it’s a five minute walk to the thatched Fishermans Inn pub at a crossroads. Proprietor Sean Ward is sorry he missed the Electric Picnic and invites us to picnic in his beautiful walled garden and enjoy some traditional tunes at the Tuesday music session in Ireland’s most haunted pub.
On this occasion the barge awaits and we cruise back to Vicarstown harbour in the cool September sunset, recalling memories of a legendary long weekend of al fresco dining and dancing in pretty places around lovely Laois. Electric, eclectic and excellent is the verdict.
Are you planning a trip to this years Electric Picnic or even a short break to lovely Laois? Be sure to check the latest Laois hotel deals before you head off.