I don’t want to be Irish for a long time. I don’t want to see another sparkling green shamrock stamped on the fat cheeks of five year old kids. No more “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” pins, Irish dudes playing orange and green striped guitars singing “The Wild Rover,” or “Tied up With a Black Velvet Band.” At a recent festival, I heard one fellow telling crude jokes and making fart and burping noises. Not funny. And I especially don’t want to see young girls with florescent pink and green $500.00 Irish dancing dresses bobbing up and down with curly doll wigs, wearing loads of make-up resembling JonBenet Ramsey, and performing to Techno Irish dance music. God Save the Irish in America!
At most Irish festivals, there is a corner designated specifically for authors and lectures, but at some festivals there is not enough space and the authors have to hawk their books with the other vendors in one big tent. At the end of Irish festival season, I feel like a Carney running my joint at the amusement park. Yes, I sell loads of books and try to speak to each person with genuine interest. However, after two or three days of talking about historical fiction and being drowned out by Irish drinking and rebel songs, techno Irish music, and bagpipes, I swear I will never sell at a festival again! Nevertheless, I must, because outside of libraries and writing groups, Irish festivals are the best venue to sell my books because of their Irish themes. I do meet interesting people and make important connections. There’s really no time to dance or listen to the music that I do like, but if I have a fellow author friend to sit and sell with, there can be good craic watching the parade of people and commenting on the human condition, Irish-American style, like. Eoighan Hamilton, author of A Celtic Darkness, and I laughed so hard that I nearly didn’t make it to the port-a-potty (another festival experience, especially after the beer drinkers have visited a few times). He is Irish-born and has that vitriolic and non-stop wit. And then once, I exited a port-a-potty and had only taken a few steps when a woman stopped to tell me my sun dress was stuck inside my under pants. If I had walked all the way from the port-a-potty with my dress tucked in my old lady underpants, right by the bagpipers on stage and all the people sitting in the audience and back to my booth, I would have left right then and definitely would never have sold at a festival again.
All criticism aside, there is something for everyone at these festivals, and it is a festival, by golly, a carnival, an amusement, and not necessarily a purist, cultural, traditional Irish experience. One can find amidst the glaring green – lectures, trad music, brown bread, Guinness, and good books. And at my last festival, I listened to The Screaming Orphans, chatted with them, and exchanged wares (two CDs for one soft copy of Norah is a good deal). Yes, even the authors are entertainers! We have all winter been secluded with our over-sized imaginations (and egos) and then come out of hiding in summer to strut our characters on our festival booth stages. We create our own schpeel and jingles, and after two days, we nearly hate our characters as much as we hate Irish festivals. Eoighan turned to me and said, “Do ye know how many fecking times I’ve said that I grew up next to a castle in Ireland?” And what about the beer splashing on the books and the large cigar set down on Norah! And then there was the wolfhound, the size of a pony, standing in front of our booth getting all the attention.
But I came home, played my new Orphans’ CD, and made plans for the next festival. It didn’t last long, this not wanting to be Irish.