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DOOLIN FOLK FESTIVAL - Doolin, Co Clare - 10-12 June 2016

Doolin, on the scenic west coast of Ireland has been something of a Mecca for traditional music over the years. The magical village with its quaint pubs was home to Micho Russell, a world renowned whistle player, and many other musicians have passed through the area and feel a great connection to it. Something of a victim of its own success, these days Doolin is teeming with tourists, stopping off for a pint of something cold and creamy on their way back from the famous Cliffs of Moher or the Burren, hoping to experience some genuine Irish music and craic. Inevitably, this has changed things somewhat, but Doolin manages to retain a great deal of its charm and is still a location well worth a visit.

A relatively new addition to the area, Hotel Doolin is a complex just up the road from the famous pier which houses a bar, restaurant, tourist information, gift shop and café as well as hotel accommodation. And for a weekend in June, it is transformed into the venue for the Doolin Folk Festival, a festival that is big enough to have a great buzz about it, but not too big that it loses its ‘boutique’ feel.

The main concerts are held in a marquee in the grounds of the hotel, with a second, smaller stage in a nearby room, and an outdoor area with some informal seating and a few bars inbetween. The concerts are all standing only, with the exception of a few chairs allocated for wheelchair users and those who consider themselves elderly! It is all quite fluid, with people drifting around and mingling in the areas between the stages. This makes for a very sociable atmosphere, and indeed there was a lovely vibe around the venue during the weekend, but it also creates a bit of a noise, and for those used to listening to their music ‘folk club style’ with the performers being given absolute attention, this might be a bit of a culture shock.

The music starts early in the afternoons and goes on till the wee small hours, so standing through it all is not really an option. But the programme lists exactly what is happening when, so you can choose what you want to see and squeeze yourself in at the required time. At other times you can just chill out in the open air area, have some food from the very reasonably priced and tasty food stall, and listen to the acts from slightly further away.

There was a fair mix of music at this year’s festival – ranging from pure trad to some much more progressive stuff. The smaller White Horse Sessions Stage featured some of the lesser known acts, and these were often much less folky in nature, but it was a chance to discover something new and to experience a more intimate, indoor set-up (as well as a chance to get a seat when the legs were giving up!). Most of the acts on the main stage were better known and included The Tri Tones, Breaking Trad, Luka Bloom, Hothouse Flowers, Finbar Furey, Lau, ALDOC, Dervish, Rackhouse Pilfer and Freddie White. There was no shortage of quality and the performances throughout were top notch.

Two acts stole the show for me though and are worthy of special mention. On Friday evening the Máirtín O’Connor Trio played a mighty set, and really got the crowd going. Comprising Máirtín on button accordion, Cathal Hayden on fiddle and banjo, and Seamie O’Dowd on guitar and songs, you would have to travel a long way to find tunes and songs to better this. Then, on Sunday afternoon, Lynched played for an hour or so, tearing their way through some brilliant Dublin songs with their close harmonies and excellent arrangements. They really are the real deal, and if you haven’t heard them, you most definitely should!

This was the fourth year of the festival in Doolin, and Conor Byrne (the festival programmer and a musician himself) and the team at Hotel Doolin should be very proud of what they have achieved. During the weekend we were speaking to some locals who told us that the people from the town really get behind the festival as it brings just the right amount of the right kind of people to the town, so they are happy to support it. Long may this be the case as the Doolin Folk Festival is a welcome addition to the music calendar in Ireland.

Fiona Heywood