The earliest record of fairs and festivals goes way back, as far as neolithic times. Later, the Romans made fairs public holidays. By the Middle Ages, many fairs had taken on a more celebratory air. These events were often tied to the Saint’s Day of a local church.
Due to the vast amounts of people these events attracted, and the fact that the sale of ale was plentiful, it is hardly surprising that they were often the scenes of riots and disturbances and eventually, the privilege of holding a fair was restricted to those who could secure a royal charter.
In time, various benefits became attached to certain fairs, even allowing participants freedom from arrest in certain circumstances.
The commerce and trade of Medieval fairs meant money and the Church took an active part in sponsoring them on feast days and fairs came to be an important source of revenue for the church. Sometimes the rights to hold fairs were granted to towns to help them to recover from the effects of war and other disasters.
Although the main objects of the Medieval fairs were trade and commerce, every fair contained some elements of merry-making. Singers, musicians, acrobats, stilt walkers, and fools were all popular, as were contests such as archery and jousting tournaments.
In contemporary times, these events are re- enacted in the growing popularity of Renaissance festivals arranged to represent an imagined village in England, usually during the reign of Elizabeth I, often considered to be the flowering of the English Renaissance.
In these festivals, stages or performance areas are set up for scheduled shows, such as plays in Shakespearean tradition and audience participation comedy routines. Other performers include dancers, magicians, musicians, jugglers, and singers.
Between the stages, lanes are lined with shops and stalls where independent vendors sell medieval and Renaissance themed handicrafts, clothing, books, and artworks.
Axe-throwing, archery, and other dubious games such as Drench-a-Wench and just to keep things equal, Soak-a-Bloke are also in evidence.
Crowds of actors who play historical figures roam the fair, interacting with visitors, who are also encouraged to wear costumes. These events are particularly popular in the States.
Chicago Times journalist Neil Steinberg observed that “If theme parks with their pasteboard main streets, reek of a bland, safe, homogenised, whitebread America, the Renaissance Faire is at the other end of the social spectrum, a whiff of the occult, a flash of danger, and a hint of the erotic. Here, they let you throw axes. Here there is more beer and bosoms than you’ll find in all of Disney World.”
And while the brand new Townlands Carnival may not be encouraging axe-throwing or jousting, the three day festival promises to be a lively and uplifting theatrical spectacle.
Sam Beshoff is one of the festival organisers on countdown to the big event. He took a little time out to tell me how this event came about.
I have a background in running a crew agency for other events, and my friend Feidhlim Bryan has worked as a safety officer. We’ve talked about something like this for the last four years.
We wanted to have our own festival but it wasn’t until we finally had some downtime and had a holiday in Bali with our families that the idea finally started to take shape.
We’re both great admirers of the UK’s Boomtown Festival which has had the biggest growth of any festival over the last few years.
It’s arts heavy and has sets like a Mayan ruin, saloons, and walkways with nine different areas. Interaction is a key part of its ethos.
We are promoting Irish music, arts, and culture in all its diversity at an internation-al level.
It’s a celebration of all things Irish — past, present and future — attracting audiences and quality acts from home and abroad. We have five stages and camping is in the sumptuous grounds of the old Rusheen Farm estate where there are walled gardens, ancient woodlands, lakes and follies, and green fields.
We have created a spectacular urban townscape in a rural field, a pop-up interactive environment that allows you to venture through many different microvenues including a bustling marketplace, a picture house, and barbershop. There’s also a sibín in the woods where you can immerse yourself in a sing-song.
And at night, the whole experience will be transformed into a magical world with lights, projections, and wild and wacky walkabouts. And we’ve pulled out all the stops for families with amazing children’s areas. There’s a craft village, too, where you can try your hand at everything from coppersmithing to candlemaking.”
Well, I think that really, some of them are not much more than marquee in a field with people being handed pints, and where people are treated like cattle. This festival is a joint passion for the nine of us who have been involved and we don’t want it to be too big. There’s nothing like this in Ireland that presents the past, present, and future of Ireland.
We started work back in November. We have four car parks and great security on the Leades House at Rusheen House in Macroom and we are very excited about it. It’s going to be a fun-filled weekend for the whole family.