Austin Vaughan on The Rolling Sun Festival

Article published on May 18, 2016.

The Rolling Sun Festival takes place in the beautiful little town of Westport in the west of Ireland over the second weekend of November annually. It is a quirky boutique festival, lasting a scant four days, with a definite focus on quality rather than quantity, that indulges bookworms and lovers of music and the arts (or so it says on our brochure!). It is called the Rolling Sun Festival because it is set in the shadow of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain, down which the sun is said to roll once every year. The town of Westport itself has been voted Ireland’s best place to live and one will quickly see why. Over the years the festival has attracted major and minor names from Claire Keegan and Kevin Barry to Ruby Wax and Mike Scott of the Waterboys

Veteran writers and friends Robert Fisk and Brian Keenan were the stars of the 2015 festival. This, the sixth incarnation of the Rolling Sun Book Festival was surely the most successful, with packed out events and quality speakers.

It began with the now traditional ‘fringe festival’ at the Custom House Studios on Thursday 12th November. This was the opening of an exhibition of stunning black and white photographs from a new book entitled ‘Western Ways – Remembering Mayo through the eyes of Helen Hooker and Ernie O’Malley’.

The official festival opening was on Friday night at the Clew Bay Hotel. An evening of song and chat, music and wine, it neatly encapsulated all the best traditions of west of Ireland entertainment. Journalist Lise Hand from the Irish Independent played the role of MC and raconteur while archaeologist Michael Gibbons entranced the packed room with his lyrical interpretation of the Rolling Sun phenomenon. The canapés had a Middle Eastern twist – a nod to the festival highlight to come the next day. The evening concluded with a sometimes rousing, sometimes emotive offering from singers Coda and their unique brand of mouth music.

The future of books is in the hands of the young and the festival organisers always remember their youthful audience. This year featured two free events, one of interactive storytelling at the Town Hall, and the other with author/illustrator Oisín McGann at the library.

Senator Marie Louise O’Donnell took to the stage on Saturday hosting a discussion with authors Niamh Boyce (The Herbalist) and this year’s hottest property in young writers, Louise O’Neill (Asking for It and Only Ever Yours). A robust discussion ensued involving the panel and as many of the large audience as could get involved.

An exhibition opening of Danny Flynn’s paintings at the Clew Bay Hotel entitled ‘From the Mayo Sunset to the Moons of Jupiter’ showcased his science fantasy, book covers and incredibly detailed nature paintings. Tony Locke launched a book of Irish Ghost Tales at Duffy’s Bookshop on Saturday evening leaving just enough time to grab a bite to eat before hightailing it to Hotel Westport for the gala closing event.

“Apocalyptic Isis Horrid Dictators and How We’re Going to Solve the Middle East – Again!” is a cracker of a title – and a lot to live up to. Suffice to say that after two hours of entertaining conversation from Robert Fisk and Brian Keenan, probing questions and comprehensive answers, the evening concluded with a spontaneous standing ovation. A fitting end to a fabulous festival.

If all this is not enough to attract you to Westport it has also been voted the best place in Ireland to buy 99s (ice cream cones!). So come on Brits, let’s have you in the best little place in the west in November 2016.


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