If you were to ask me where my favourite place in Ireland is I would have no hesitation in saying the Aran Islands. After spending some time on all three islands last summer with temperatures close to 30 degrees and kicking myself that I didn’t go to the first Drop Everything event in 2012 there was no way I was missing it this time. An early ferry ride on Friday morning takes us to Inis Oírr and less than an hour later we are booked into Maggie’s B&B and have hired bikes. Wristbands are picked up, merch perused, shipwrecks explored and soup gobbled at Teach An Tae before we find ourselves at the official opening at 9pm in Áras Éanna which is the arts centre for the three Aran Islands. After checking out a photo exhibition, Rituals by Rich Gilligan and sampling the complementary wine it’s over to Leila Doolan to deliver a rousing speech and declare the event officially open. Jack Casey aka Embrz is up next, playing live for the very first time and treats us to a really nice set of blissed out electronica while showcasing some fine vocal chops.
Some flashing lights on the beach grab our attention on the way to the school hall and a closer look reveals an installation called Hybrasil – Newfoundlight with vertical poles lighting up in different colours while audio emanates from the nearby sand dunes. Suitably impressed we make our way over to catch CLU and their live generated visual audio mix where images and subliminal messages are projected hologram like onto the lip of the stage while electronic beats and bleeps wash over the large crowd gathered. It’s a fantastic assault on the senses and one that leaves us still reeling trying to cycle in the dark with no lights on the way to Tigh Ruari’s, one of only three pubs on the island to catch DJ sets from Sally Cinnamon and This Greedy Pig. The debauchery gets cranked up to 11 after this and it’s the wee hours before we venture home. This time the bikes are left (unlocked) outside safe in the knowledge that they will be there the next day, untouched.
It’s a grand dry afternoon by the time I get going the next day and after hearing reports of crowd surfing in the pub the night before I find myself back at Áras Éanna at 2pm for a talk with Luke Franklin and the 4 Bothies crew. This project placed four art shelters in remote locations around Ireland, one of them being a gallery on the abandoned island of Inis Shark off the coast of Mayo. It’s an inspiring and uplifting conversation that generates a real aura of positivity amongst everyone gathered. Jumping on the bike then and over to the handball alley to catch an installation called Ecdysis by Sougwen I park the bike not knowing what to expect and enter into a darkened room where speakers boom out dark ambient passages reminiscent of Lustmord while images evolve and disintegrate before the spectators gathered. It is truly an assault on the senses and everyone that visited spoke in gushing terms about it afterwards.
We take our seats then for Somerville, who was one of State’s Faces of 2014 back in January. This time she leaves her shiny red shoes at home but still delivers a enchanting set of hushed vocals and barely there guitar strumming. Swede Molly Nilsson is next with a mixture of amusing anecdotes and her own particular brand of dark electronic pop including the excellent Hey Moon! from 2009’s brilliant These Things Take Time. There’s no moon to be seen on the way to Ostan Inis Oirr but DJ sets from White Collar Boy, Colin Finnegan and New Jackson soon have the sauced up crowd going bananas with the dancing continuing into the small hours once again.
Sunday brings sunshine to the island and while glad that I managed to get in at a respectable 3am I can’t help but feel a little envious of those that partied on the beach until the sun came up. Stopping in for some much needed nourishment at a café/b&b I’m a little less envious of the guests who the bean an tí tells me stumbled in the door at half past ten in the morning. I’m too late for the Fumbally brunch cooked overnight in a Fulacht Fiadh but by all reports it goes down a treat with everyone who made it down to the rocky shore by Tigh Ned on the island’s north western side. All is not lost however as this where all the action is today with all three pubs getting a turn each night at hosting the festivities, high jinks and general carrying on. Tim O’Donovan and Neil Watkins get the party started with their Buffalo Woman project that soon has the crowd hollering, cheering and dancing like mad things while later the last ferry to the mainland sails right by the front of the pub with more than a few envious faces looking on.
The only break in proceedings is when event organiser Mary Nally shouts “Sunset!” and everyone gathers down on the shore to watch natures magnificent light show with the sun setting over neighbouring Inis Meáin. It’s only fitting then that the DJ plays The Orb’s ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ and as I look around at the good folk gathered I can see draíocht or magic in their faces for this is a magical place and as the last remnants of the fading light give way to nightfall lifelong friendships have been forged. 2016 seems a long time to wait for the next event but rest assured for those that were here the experience will live forever in our memories.
To quote J.M. Synge, “the geography of the Aran Islands is very simple, yet it may need a word to itself.”