Yes, friends, the Hay Festival has returned to Kells. Hurrah!
I envision the festival as a well-behaved puppy being led from one town to another — Hay reigns in five continents — but keeping his most enthusiastic tail-wagging for Ireland. I know, you’re thinking that’s a bit fanciful. Hey, I’m a writer. Deal with it.
So, what have we had so far?
Well, on Wednesday, we had the unveiling of Meath artist Ann Meldon Hugh’s sculpture in the Kells’ Civic Office. It drew a big crowd of enthusiasts, and was so well-received that Ms Hugh sold several pieces of her bronze and ceramic work. Her sculpture reflects the greatness and the sadness of body and soul. No, I didn’t read that anywhere… If you’re interested in knowing more about her extraordinary work, you should take a look at her website here: http://www.annmeldonhugh.com/newwork.htm
Thursday was all about the American Civil War. This year is the one-hundred-fiftieth anniversary of the end of that conflict. (That’s a sesquicentennial, in case you were wondering. You’re welcome.)
Throughout the day there was a series of lectures about different aspects of the war. A soft rain fell over the town and it seemed designed for the atmosphere. I swear I could hear drums and battle cries in the distance. The venue, too, St Columba’s church with its ancient tower and weather-beaten headstones seemed made for just such a topic.
If you’d asked me before, I would have said the Civil War was a conflict between dyed-in-the-wool Americans, some of them brothers, who fought on opposite sides of the Mason-Dixon line. But while that’s true of the majority, we shouldn’t forget that many of the combatants were black men or native Americans, and almost 200,000 of them were Irish.
Over the course of the day, we learned about the young men who fled a famine-ravaged Ireland to seek a better life in the Americas. Many of them joined up to serve the army of their new country. Many of them died.
We heard their stories, and we heard about the families they left behind. It seems extraordinary to think of how much this country was affected by a war fought so far away.
Most of the visitors attended just one or two carefully-selected lectures, but some hearty souls stayed for the entire day. There was so much to learn and discuss. You might think that would make for a somber mood, but you’d be wrong. As lectures ended, people spilled out from the venue and stood on the steps talking. We Irish love talking. Little snippets of conversation floated over the headstones. Words got tangled on the branches: Bull Run… Gettysburg… Lincoln…
I was volunteering at the church venue for the morning so, sadly, I missed the antiquarian book auction. It’s probably as well. I’m a divil when it comes to buying books. I did, however, manage to make it to Headfort House for the official launch. It was great to meet so many of the people who dedicate themselves to the festival every year, like Ger Gaughran and Jess Olohan.
It was my first time in this house, which is now a boarding school. If I did have visions of Enid Blyton-esque ‘tuck parties’ or midnight feasts, I’m keeping such thoughts to myself. I know you mocked me when I made my Hay Festival-as-a-puppy comment above. I’m a sensitive artist, you know.
Oy! Stop laughing!
Anyway, thanks to Antonia (of Antonia’s Bookstore fame) https://www.facebook.com/AntoniasBookstore ) for the lift back to Kells. I couldn’t have managed that walk in my killer heels. ‘Killer’ being the operative word.
Thanks to Antonia, I made it back in time for the launch of the the Kells Type Trail. This year we are celebrating lettering as an art form. Signs of the old Kells’ street names are being placed around the town in cast iron. We’re also restoring the milestone markers on the roads. The first is being placed on the Dublin Road. There’s a lot of other stuff, too, but you wouldn’t want me to divulge all the secrets at once, would you?