Enquiries on O’Keeffe Festival and Horse Fair as we Turn into Autumn

Umbrellas everywhere and only the diehards hanging on at last year’s annual November 1st Horse Fair Day in Castleisland. It is hard to imagine that crowding like this will be allowed on November 2nd this year. ©Photograph: John Reidy 1-11-2019
In surer times: Patrick O’Keeffe Traditional Music Festival Committee members pictured at their AGM at the Island Point meeting rooms in February. Seated from left: Ned O’Callaghan, secretary; Pats Broderick, president; Cormac O’Mahony, chairman and Conor O’Mahony, digital media spokesman. Back row: Jerome Hartnett, treasurer with newly elected members, Jack Walsh and Sheila Heery, Brendan Herbert and Patsy O’Donoghue, music liaison officer.                         ©Photograph: John Reidy 7-2-2020.

November 1st has fallen on a Sunday on innumerable times over the years and certainly on a couple of occasions recently  enough.

So what? The consequences of this harmless occurrence for Castleisland is that the town’s annual horse fair moves to the Monday 2nd when November 1st lands on a Sunday.

This occasional coincidence of day and date applies to the fair day and the old Greek song, Never on a Sunday is a great rule of thumb and a reminder of this ancient fact.

Limited Impact on Economy

If it happens at all on this never to be forgotten year of 2020 it will be held on Monday, November 2nd.

And if it does go ahead its impact on the economy of the town is likely to be severely spancelled by the restrictions under which public houses and restaurants are going to be forced to operate.

It is worth noting though that Gardai in Cork moved earlier this month to prevent another famous fair from going ahead on health and safety grounds.

Caheramee Horse Fair Cancelled

They cordoned off the streets in Buttevant which stages the hugely popular Cahirmee Horse Fair every July 12th – unless, like Castleisland, if the 12th falls on a Sunday – then it’s moved to the following day which was the case this year.

Castleisland’s only remaining fair of a once crowded calendar is looking increasingly shaky even at this remove as the social distancing advice is still, and looks like, ruling the roost for some time to come.

Acceptable distancing would be an impossibility to implement at such a gathering of people from all corners of the country.

Different Kettle of Fish

It has survived wars and pestilence of all manner but this year is a different kettle of fish entirely.

I’ve got a few enquiries already from people wondering if the fair will be go ahead this November and about the little quirk of day and date – which has caught out several fair-goers over the years.

We’ll have to wait and see but it’s looking increasingly likely that the health and safety shutters will be put up against it here too when the time comes.

Patrick Hanging by a Thread

The town’s other big fall-of-the-year event, the 1993 established October bank holiday weekend Patrick O’Keeffe Traditional Music Festival is still hanging by a thread as festival chairman, Cormac O’Mahony said he’d like to ‘toughen a while’ and see what the next few weeks will bring in terms of Covid -19 developments.

Meanwhile, musicians are offering their services ahead of the possible staging of a remote marking of the festival like the World Fiddle Day event on last May 16th when fiddle players from home and abroad played a tune from their homes in honour of the event.

Gerry Harrington in Support

Talking to Gerry Harrington on Tuesday and, while discussing the possibility of the O’Keeffe festival not going ahead as we know it, he offered to play his part from his home on the Sligo / Roscommon border and from the house once occupied by the late musician Josie McDermott.

“Count me in if there’s anything I can do to help the festival stage an event in some form.

“What PJ (Teahan) did with the World Fiddle Day virtual evening was a bit of magic and something similar could be done for the Castleisland festival.

“I know that all the musicians who love that festival and have been travelling down there over the years would be delighted to mark the occasion this year if it comes to that,” said Gerry.

An Assured Difference

Whatever it comes to this year it will be different. The O’Keeffe festival’s great strength in drawing together so many strands of music and musicians from all over the world will now be seen as its greatest weakness in the Covid-19 dominated world we’re all learning to cope with – and hoping to live with.

I was reminded a couple of weeks ago of a film clip I shot on the phone in Fagin’s on the Sunday afternoon last year. In that clip there were people from eight or nine different countries sitting down in close proximity and playing away to their hearts content. That can’t happen this year.

Pub Centred Festival

As a pub centered festival of sessions of music and song and meeting and greeting, its days in a post pandemic world are numbered – for 2020 that is.

Medical experts, including the high profile immunologist Luke O’Neill, have classed going to a pub as posing one of the greatest risks to health with a rating of 9/10.

That alone, in the context of any kind of traditional music festival – as we know it, is that.

God is Good

Hasty decision making was never a hallmark of the Patrick O’Keeffe Traditional Music Festival Committee and Cormac O’Mahony’s ‘toughening it out’ stance is so beautifully in tune with its code of ethics that it deserves to work.

“God is good” – as festival founder member the late Mike Kenny would often say when times were tough and assets were liquidated.

God is good indeed – and hope abounds.