Calling time on a great tradition…

Here’s to the beer

By John Fitzgerald

The Beer Festival dancer whose performance I described last week told admirers that he only did his Cossack act when he had passed a certain threshold in the course of a given night’s drinking. His exact words, rightly deemed inapt for publication in a local newspaper, were “I dance like f…when I’m p…”

Another man gravitated and meandered towards the entrance of a closed pub in Parliament Street at 3. P.M. and asked if his bed was ready yet. He had called to the wrong house, and his nightlong search for the place he had booked into drew a complete blank.

Equally frustrating was the ordeal of a farmer who accidentally spat out his false teeth when he was dancing around the beer tent. He spent the best part of an hour searching under the table amid thousands of pounding feet that were keeping time to the music. Friends tried to console him under the table as he conducted an inch-by-inch search of the frothy, beer-saturated floor.

Prayers were offered to St. Anthony by religious folk who knelt beside the table and tried to make themselves heard above the ear-splitting chorus of “For Ever and Ever”. When he found his dentures, the farmer thanked the prayer group and the Macra lads who had come to his aid and rejoined the festivities.

He could not have been more joyful or relieved if he had located the mystical Holy Grail or won the Irish Sweep Stake, such was the importance to him of his set of false teeth.

The week of festivities ended on notes of lavish compliments from politicians and businesspeople in the City, and from visiting dignitaries. The Mayor and Bill Finnegan expressed heart-felt satisfaction that there had been no outbreaks of rowdyism in the City.

Foremost among the foreign delegation was the German Ambassador, Dr. Heinz Von Trutzschler. He called to the beer tent during the week and what he saw filled him with elation. He commented: “This makes me very happy. You Irish here in Kilkenny know how to drink beer in the good old-fashioned way. And you have learned our German melodies very well. Our nation’s band loves your city and who knows…Ve might be back next year.”

The End of Innocence

The festival proved a financial and tourist boom to the city and county, so small wonder that it evolved into an annual event. Unfortunately, the restraint and more or less exemplary behaviour exhibited by drinkers in its formative years was overshadowed in the early seventies by an invasion of lager louts from Dublin and other parts of the country.

These purveyors of mayhem arrived on “Mystery Trains” to offer city and county dwellers a unique insight into their quite different attitude to the drinking experience. The locals; though by no means always above reproach themselves in their imbibing of alcohol, became quickly disillusioned with the newcomers.

It was still a great festival…but the outlanders (outsiders) as the German Ambassador called them; knocked a lot of the fun and good humour out of the marathon booze-up. A local newspaper report on the 1970 festival carried the screaming headlines: “Sex Scenes Shock City and Charges of Gross Immorality.”

The article described patterns of behaviour that clearly spelt the beginning of the end for the Beer Festival: “…Public fornication, nudity, pilfering, assault, desecration, gross drunkenness, urinating into private letter boxes and many other forms of antisocial activity…”

The innocence had gone. Fear, chaos, and uncertainty gripped the city during the final years of the festival.

The Beer Festival had died out by the mid seventies. Its abandonment was a sign of the times. You could no longer expect to have law and order in a city where beer was King for a full week.

Still, it was a great craic and Kilkenny will never see its likes again.



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