Fuinneamh Festival has become part and parcel of the Irish festival circuit, yet the highly popular festival clutches onto its core beliefs and values through every facet of the festival’s being. We sat down with Fuinneamh owners, bookers, regulars and contributors to chat about the importance of handcrafted Irish festival’s with an onus on community, sustainability and Irish heritage.
Tucked away in the heavenly surroundings of Belurgan Park in Dundalk, Fuinneamh Festival acts as an alternative to the wearisome idea that each festival in Ireland is radically unique. The two day gathering is a sobering experience for those who find authenticity at the bottom of an uninspiring IPA can or within the crust of a jazzed up hotdog, while I’m a sucker for a nice beer and a frankfurter, they add a forged sense of legitimacy at many festivals. Fuinneamh is the opposition to your ostentatious festival’s, as it offers a genuine sense of community through its D.I.Y. beliefs, from act’s, festival staff, food vendors, ethos and the united feeling in Belurggan that is utterly infectious.
Fuinneamh Festival has acted as a safe haven for those who hold onto to the underground and D.I.Y. beliefs and values that dance music was built on in the late 80’s. Dance music was carved out of community driven initiatives and the idea of unity through repetitive and tribal inspired rhythms. These beliefs often get lost and misconstrued in the mist of the commercialisation of dance music today, but little microcosms of communities such as Fuinneamh blaze a trail for future events that lean on traditional ethics. These spaces are crucial to the future of dance music, echoing whispers of the past to a future generation.
Fuinneamh officially formed in 2016 for its inaugural addition, but the festival had been the coming together of over a decade of independent raves and festivals from the organisers. Fuinneamh has been the end product to what seem’s like a lifetime of dedication towards communal spaces driven by music and art, this is not just a passion project, it’s a way of life for many involved. This can been seen through every facet of Fuinneamh’s existence and every little detail has been thought over numerous times, it’s simply breathes differently. You can find little pieces of charm from the organisers spread across the land, and it ooze’s comfort, tranquility and freedom.
We spoke to the some of the key cogs in the Fuinneamh organisation to see what make’s Fuinneamh so special.
The Fuinneamh mantra is ‘Grá Rithim agus Athrú – Love Rhythm and Change’. Can you give me an insight into the meaning of the mantra ?
Grá Rithim agus Athrú, Love Rhythm and Change.. Well thats what it’s all about really.
Love is the most powerful force in the universe, its the source. Love gives us strength, love brings us together, love is unity, equality, non judgement, freedom of expression.. It is passion, creativity, and beauty.. that’s what ive always imagined when i see grá/love in relation to fuinneamh.
Rhythm is what brings it all into action, rhythm is the binary undulation encoded into the fabric of our reality. Everything is in constant rhythmic motion and that’s how we exist, night and day, sleep and wake, low tide and high tide, breath in breath out.. its all rhythm.. As humans, we instinctively know this, rhythm is something that we’ve celebrated for thousands of years through dance. We have a primal urge to feel and dance to rhythm, we understand how important rhythm is in keeping the universe in motion! And at Fuinneamh we have no shortage of rhythm!
Change, is inevitable, a universal truth. But we have the power to choose what change we want to be, and what change we want to see in the world. We are currently faced with so many issues in the world, climate and environmental issues, cultural issues, mental health issues. At Fuinneamh we want to create the building blocks to provoke positive changes in the world.. We’re a small festival but we’ve got a lot of progressive ideas and we’re not afraid to stand up and say, hey, this is our responsibility, we can be that change together. And i think people really support that.
You’ve been very vocal about how ‘Fusion Festival’ in Germany has influenced both Fuinneamh and you as a person. Can you give more of an insight into how it’s impacted Fuinneamh ?
Fusion festival was the first festival I ever attended. I was only 19, i was living in Berlin in 2010 and that summer I ended up at fusion.That place changed my life forever. In short, a few years after the fall of the Berlin wall Fusion was born, Fusion is 80’000 people on and old soviet airbase way out in the german countryside, no police, self governing society for 5 nights of programmed music across 27 stages, mind-boggling art installation, and afterparties that last for days, an extremely anti commercial, underground, politically charged festival with ideas of how society can be better if we were all to love one another. So I guess maybe you can already see where some of the inspiration came from haha. Fusion opened my eyes to the power and potential festivals possess for positive change, for individual inspiration, for self growth.. I haven’t missed a single Fusion since 2010. that place is like my yearly pilgrimage back to the source. i can say for certain, if it wasn’t for fusion, there’d be no Fuinneamh.
Fuinneamh is distinctly influenced by our ancient heritage, not only through the name but through the spirit and essence of the festival. How important is it reiterate the importance of our heritage through festival spaces ?
Our ancient history here in Ireland is so beautiful, it is powerful and inspiring, and there is real magic that still exists there. I’ve always been deeply enthralled and have always had a deep grá for the magic that is our heritage and the ancestors that walked this land. The true history of this island will never be told, we don’t have the books, we cant ask the questions to anyone who was there. All we really have left is the engravings in the stones, the sacred megalithic alignment monuments that decorate our landscape and most importantly, our language. These are links to what I believe was once an encyclopedia of deep spiritual wisdom. We can still here echos of that wisdom in the folklore, the music and the words of our native language, we can still visit the ancient temples and feel that wisdom beneath our feet and all around us. I want to Fuinneamh to be another tool in reconnecting people to the beautiful history of this land, to connect with the land, to connect with themselves and to pass that on for future generations.
You’ve said festivals can be a very good starting point for conversations about climate, cultural and societal problems, that have manifested within the modern age, and taking things back to basics at a gathering of music and art can somewhat highlight the importance of recognising these issues. Can you go a little further into detail as to how Fuinneamh highlights certain issues?
I think festivals can be looked at like a microcosm for the bigger picture, the changes we make at a festival amongst a couple thousand people, can be implemented into far bigger systems and societal models. I think the way we approach this at Fuinneamh is by going directly towards new styles of thinking and ways to resolve, rather than focussing on the negatives, just re-educate and implement that on the ground. If we can focus, and create a culture at Fuinneamh that is based on respect for the land, respect for one another, and respect for oursleves, theres no reason to say the same cant be done on far bigger scales. The way we do this at Fuinneamh is through talks, workshops, artwork, interactive waste management systems, signage and messaging and then finally, personal accountability. It’s all of our responsibilities to take this stuff on board.
Fuinneamh is distinctly independent and D.I.Y., through the festivals, ethos, stage design, festival site and more. Can you explain how important it is to be able to have full creative control of Fuinneamh ?
It means everything to have full creative control over Fuinneamh, from being able to implement new progressive ideas, to being able to keep the festival free from commercial advertising. Fuinneamh is pure, it is a space created with intention, love, and collaboration. A space to escape, a place to find ourselves, to be vulnerable, to come together to share, laugh, love and dance. I feel like being an independent leaves people with the freedom to go deeper and feel safe. People don’t need their attention on anything else but the experience they are having, and that is a really beautiful thing. Our attention is already being stolen from us by everything else in modern society, I’ve always wanted Fuinneamh to be free from that. It’s like this, If someones giving you x amount of money to plaster their brand all over your project, essentially your project has to conform with their brand identity. Theres great brands and great projects out there that work together in great synergy, but at Fuinneamh we just prefer to be independent.
What can we expect from Fuinneamh 2022?
I really believe fuinneamh 2022 is going to be the one. Our most immersive stage designs, a new site layout, new stages, so much more artwork, so much more growth in the Lotus tribe holistic village, a great programme of talks and workshops and an absolutely insane line up of international and local talent that spans across so many genres. Fuinneamh 2022 is going to be a very special weekend. A lot of love has gone into this festival and now that its been 3 years since weve opened our gate, that love is about to be felt by everyone who attends. We cant wait to have everyone back.
Shaun Darcy [Aeron XTC]
You’ve been involved in many festivals over the years in Ireland. What attracted you to Fuinneamh ?
The first ever Fuinneamh the guys booked me to play the closing set. It was before I’d really carved a solid name for myself as a DJ, but they put their trust in me. The set was meant to be an hour long, but we just kept on going and going for over 6 hours, I finished up around 10.30am. What happened during that set has stayed with me as one of the best experiences of my life, I never felt a connection like that with a crowd and a place.
Everything about Fuinneamh is genuine. It’s for music lovers, by music lovers. I never really planned on taking an ownership role in a festival, but I felt Fuinneamh is a place that is very important to the Irish electronic music scene, I wanted everybody to be able to experience this place. Luke, Jack and the rest of the family put literally everything they had into Fuinneamh, heart and soul. There came a point where to take it to the next level there was a place for me to get involved, and I felt right.
What’s your role in Fuinneamh festival?
I look after bookings alongside Jack. I’d say I take a lead role in the musical leaning on the electronic side each year, but not without everybody else onboard having a say and being happy to move in a certain direction. We all also share a role in supporting each other throughout the process of realising each year’s festival. Giving feedback, coming up with ideas, but at the end of the day leaving each person in their role with the final call.
The music policies of Fuinneamh seem very much intertwined with the ethos and overall vibe of the festival. Do you approach booking acts for Fuinneamh with a slightly different mindset to other festivals or clubs shows?
Yes, Fuinneamh started out with solely booking local artists. It’s a huge part of its ethos, we always work hard to keep the balance. There are so many artists in Ireland and so few hours in our clubs, we’re aware of our responsibility to showcase local talent. We are all also music lovers and clubbers, we met through the clubbing scene & I always make a conscious effort to represent our tastes in the international bookings. I try to keep the bookings unique and to book people who I know are going to blow you away. Once you’re in the arena you will not stop dancing.When you come to Fuinneamh you are going to get amazing music from the moment we turn the sound systems on until the moment they’re turned off and you’re going to meet some of the most amazing people you’ve ever met in your life.
Your ‘Aeron XTC’ alias has become synonymous with closing sets, and you’ve closed out the show at Fuinneamh on numerous occasions. Do you prepare for this set differently to other closing sets, given the free spirited nature of Fuinneamh?
Yep. I prepare for sets as they come up, I try to think about what the setting might be like, what the crowd will be like. With Fuinneamh already know the exact vibe I want to bring , I felt I knew it from the moment I played my first track down there 9 years ago. I’m constantly preparing for this set, when I hear a track that suits Fuinneamh I know it and I will sometimes sit on those tracks all year until the festival comes around.
I’ve been preparing for this set for 2 years and I’ve only found my opening track just by chance today, it’s something I think really represents the sound we all came from. I have a bunch of tracks I’ve held off playing in clubs because they’re just so perfect for Fuinneamh I need to see them go off there first. There’s nothing like that closing set when the whole festival just comes together at one stage. It’s like pictures I have of what it must have been like to be at a massive open air rave in the 90’s, that one-ness and magic between everybody. Best few hours of the year.
Fuinneamh is living proof that Irish festivals can succeed on a grass roots and very much D.I.Y level. Do you think Fuinneamh could be an instigator for more non-profit driven festivals in Ireland ?
It could be. It’s a really different experience being at a festival that’s not brand sponsored all over the place. And that’s not a shot at other festivals, that sponsorship allows for those festivals to happen and provides a certain kind of experience. I never really thought about it until I was at Fuinneamh but it’s a totally different experience, you get fully enveloped in the land, the surroundings, the music, it’s incredible. This is a moment in time everybody needs to experience and I can’t stress that enough. This year is going to be special and thinking about it, it 100% has to inspire more parties.. But this will be the only one that was exactly like this.
Can you give me an insight as to where the idea of Fuinneamh came from, and how did it materialise from there?
I had been running a club night called small talk and renting a sound-ystem from our very own fearless leader Luke reddy. Myself and Luke have been friends since childhood and both had a love of electronic music and music festivals. We finally put our heads together in the Keep Her Lit Days which where amazing parties Luke threw in the wicklow mountains. We figured if we both put our skill sets together we could make something magical happen and from there Fuinneamh was born. It was a long process to get to the first gig Luke had the vision and he had been building it for 10 years nearly. I had the abilities to put it into action so we got a team together and In 2016 we ran our first festival. Fuinneamh as we know it now was born from there. It’s now a magical two days in one of the most scenic areas in Ireland enriched with Celtic mythology and our own spin on how an Irish festival can be run independently all whilst showcasing Irish talent at is heart.
From running free parties and raves to running a fully fledged two day festival. Can you give an insight into some of the challenges that you may have faced in the early years of Fuinneamh?
I was running club nights at the time which in comparison to Fuinneamh were very easy to run. You booked a venue, your acts, and you promoted it. In the early days organising Fuinneamh we learned very quickly this was a different beast, from having to meet the guards, the council, the venue, the neighbours, we realised to make our dream come through we would have to put everything we had into it – and I mean everything, money, time, blood, sweat and tears. The amount of time that goes into organising these events is massive. The hardest part for me was having to answer questions all day we never really knew the answers to. The sheer vastness of running a festival and realising you’re responsible for a couple of thousand people in a fields safety can be quite daunting. We have had issues on-site which when your starting off you never think of and don’t think about the consequences. We have had the guards and council put us in line when we where young pups, and maybe a little bold but we have learned a lot and work well with all the above now. The one piece of advice I would give to anyone who plans on running their first festival is to reach out to people who have done it before. There is so much logistically going on that you will need help with. We had some great mentors but of course like everything you have to walk before you can run and when your young and reckless you always think your right.
Fuinneamh is very much driven by friends, family and ultimately the idea of community, from art installations, food vendors, acts, festival staff and more, there’s many cogs in the Fuinneamh operation. How important is to not have to outsource goods or services in order to run the festival?
Most people you see working at Fuinneamh are either some of my dearest and oldest friends or my family that’s from front of house right through to the build the family element is real there everywhere. Fuinneamh is a family festival and the crew who bring it to you are one big messed up family. We have all been either friends since childhood or working together on separate shows for over 10 years. We are probably the last of the mohicans when it comes to being an independent Irish festival. I really don’t think people grasp how much even one person buying a ticket to Fuinneamh means to all of us.
Fuinneamh is run purely on the ticket sales we have no sponsorship whatsoever we are completely independent and that means everything to the team. We can drive the festival in the direction we decide, Fuinneamh won’t conform and will always stay true to its roots of people gathering in nature and celebrating Irish talent and Irish craic which is the best in the world, we really know how to party. I suppose that’s where it all really started and we want it to stay that way. We want the best Irish talent we want to be free to decide who plays at Fuinneamh.
Being independent means everything to us because what you see at Fuinneamh is real. The whole festival is built by hand over the course of the year everything you see is done by us and our team of amazing crew and artists. This is why we will remain independent and why it’s so important for us. We are trying to show people it can be done. With just a little bit of support from the Irish underground scene we have managed to keep Fuinneamh alive since 2016 and plan to go until the end of time.
While Fuinneamh boasts a host of renowned international artists, the ethos of Fuinneamh festival comes through supporting local talent. How important is supporting grass roots talent at Fuinneamh?
When Fuinneamh first started I implemented a booking policy the rules where simple show case Irish talent who can’t make it onto the big stages at the bigger festivals. we didn’t book any international acts as the whole idea behind Fuinneamh was to showcase Irish talent. This is something I still insist takes part in Fuinneamh today. Shaun Darcy has come on and massively helped me with the acts taking the lead on internationals and bookings side of things. As I said above you become very stretched very quickly running gigs and it’s great to have someone with Shauns experience, knowledge and skill in there to help me out. He’s the main man when it comes to staying relevant with acts and getting the right crew is.
We have a great team of resident artists who play every year and we probably are one of the biggest bookers for Irish talent in the country. We have some international acts now but the festivals ethos still revolves around booking the best up and coming Irish acts available to us. We are only able to book international acts over the last few years as the festival starts to grow. We will always keep our bookings on the pulse of the Irish underground scene as we feel Fuinneamh is a place for all Irish musicians to show case their talent.
What does Fuinneamh mean to you?
Fuinneamh is my life it has been for the last ten years nearly now. I have put everything I have into it. Anyone who knows me personally knows how hard it is to run a festival but I have never given up, it’s had me financially broke, angry, sad but it is also the thing that can give me the unreal adrenaline rush when something goes right and I love chasing that feeling.
Fuinneamh to me is family, everyone involved is part of that family. We’re a messed up little family but we all make it work together. It’s what gets me up in the morning and makes me work hard every day on it.
365 days a year Fuinneamh gives me a purpose to out do ourselves from the year before. It’s my whole life year in year out. It’s a place where people can come together and be free, free or worries, free of society for two days in that beautiful field and let’s call a spade a spade it’s the best underground independent festival in Ireland.
Justin Cullinan [JCIE]
You’ve been involved as a DJ at Fuinneamh since day one. Can you explain the atmosphere at Fuinneamh to people that have never been?
Fuinneamh is an incredibly unique and vibrant festival. It has an amazing underground feel to it, stacked full of incredible local talent and with its success and growth more and more of the best international artists the world has to offer. The atmosphere is really like none you can really find at other festivals around Ireland in my opinion. There is a sense of freedom and serenity that Fuinneamh offers that allows everyone to feel expressive and secure. No one is here to judge and everyone is here for the same reason, a great time with whopper tunes. I could not recommend this festival more. It just gets better and better. With this being its biggest year so far I expect the best atmosphere without a doubt!
The music policy at Fuinneamh is rather diverse, what sort of sounds can we expect to hear at Fuinneamh?
The great thing about the music at Fuinneamh is that it is impossible to be bored. There is something for everyone, whether its House, Techno, Psy, Electro, Hardcore, Dnb, some Indie, Trad or Folk. Not only that genres and styles available but the artists that deliver them are the best in the business. This year’s line up is the biggest yet which just means it’s going to be even better with higher standards. There’s some incredible names on the lineup I’m very excited to see the likes of Anetha, Stef Mendesidis, Commix, DJ Assault, Midland, local legends like Sunil, Aeron or Cailin, future legends like Aero or folk group Tau. I really have not been this excited for a festival in a long time. The variety is incredible.
How did you first become involved with Fuinneamh & as we approach the largest scale Fuinneamh in the history of the festival, can you give us an insight into the beginnings of Fuinneamh?
My insight into the origins of Fuinneamh is also how I first became involved with the project. I have some incredible memories of the journey which I am so grateful for. The biggest thing that stands out to me which apart from the absolutely incredible buzz at the Ar Gcuid Fuinneamh / Keep Her Lit forest parties were, was one day myself and Luke Reddy (Lúcás) the Founder (Also an absolutely incredible DJ and Producer, go see him!) where going for a drive and stroll up the Wicklow Mountains. We we talking all things raves, gigs and tunes. I remember him saying how he wanted to get a rig and build from it and he goes to me “Watch Justin, one day we’re going to have a festival”. I’ll never forget it. 10 years later we have a sold out one with a huge line up on our hands.
Without his determination to provide this incredible experience and projection of his dream, I wouldn’t be typing this now. I have huge respect for that.
About two weeks after that we had the first party deep in the Wicklow Mountains. We hand-balled gear through the woods for about 3km which was not easy but had such a good time. I was insanely unprepared and only had a few cd’s with me at the time but I remember playing first that night and was one of my favourite sets played. String and Bates, Cian Byrne Little among others played to and man what a night. We danced around the woods till well into the following the day.
From there the hype just built and built we did several more parties, had some shut down, generations taken, generators cables cut then rewired and parties restarted and continued for days. A few years passed and Luke, Jack, Rob, Allen and others knuckled down and brainstormed the first addition in 2016, Lúnasa in the beautiful Bellurgan Park and what a special festival that was. There’s been ups and downs but what’s going to happen this September will undoubtedly be the best addition yet.
How did you initially get involved with Fuinneamh. Can you tell us that story and what Fuinneamh means to you?
I’ve been really good friends with Luke for over 12 years, so when I set up a healing collective called Lotus Tribe with my friend Caoimhe, he asked us to get involved and bring some healing energy and creative inspiration to the festival. And it just took off from there. The magic kept unfolding year by year, and now it’s a hub of creativity, connection and playfulness. Being involved with Fuinneamh has been so rewarding and fulfilling because I’ve watched it grow from its inception to a fully fledged, amazing festival. Being part of building the community of like my minded souls around the Lotus Tribe area, I’ve seen how it’s impacted people in a positive way, wether they were a seasoned festie goer or brand new to the experience.
Can you explain to people about Lotus Tribe area and what it encapsulates at Fuinneamh festival?
The Lotus Tribe area at Fuinneamh is not just a wellness area, it is a vortex of healing energy, with a few slices of conscious awareness and a sprinkling of craic agus ceol. With workshops, talks and healing treatments, people can come to take a break from the partying, tune back into themselves and connect with other people. It is the more feminine, nurturing side of the festival. It is the Yin to the Yang. It is a place to learn new things about yourself, have interesting conversations, be entertained by interactive workshops and highly skilled walkabout entertainers. And soothe your ears by listening to some acoustic music by talented Irish musicians.
How important is wellness at a festival ?
Oh mega important! It’s the epicentre of the festival, energetically. What happens in the wellness area ripples out and affects the whole festival, in a positive way. It’s a place to get creative, let yourself be inspired and maybe understand yourself a bit better. (At the beginning of the festival we have an opening ceremony where everybody stands in a circle, and sends their good intentions out to the festival and everyone attending.)
What can we expect from the Lotus Tribe area at Fuinneamh this year?
We have so much magic in store for you this year – from yoga, breathwork, meditation, sound bath, cacao ceremony, conscious relating connection games, herbalism, fire performances, hula hoop workshop, face painting, art corner, to name but a few! And for the first time, we will have a Mna Rua, a Red tent. This is a place for women to go when they are menstruating, to slow down, have a rest, and allow some nurturing. This space will be held by why a few women who have special training in conscious menstrual cycle awareness. This is not a new practise and something that was practised long ago by why indigenous tribes people. So it’s really a beautiful thing to bring it back into modern society.
You can purchase tickets HERE.