The European Bazaar project has now been underway for 4 months. Sadly it has been set against the distressing backdrop of the twin Malaysia disasters, the international apathy toward the massacres in Gaza and the political collateral damage of the war in the Ukraine.
And it’s times like these that it is is easy to forget that we do know how to be nice to one another.
That’s why I can now tell you that if your faith in humanity is getting a little thin, then you need to visit a little scarecrow festival in the heart of Ireland.
For hundreds of years the Irish survived occupation by the English, bloody civil war, potato famines, racism and modern austerity measures. Yet despite all this they have always managed to maintain a reputation for fun, free-spiritedness and boundless generosity. Along with Australians, they export the lovable rogue character that the world adores.
Walk into a rural pub in Ireland and you’ll scarcely be there 2 minutes before someone will start chatting with you as if they’ve known you since you were knee-high to a grasshopper. You may have absolutely no idea what they’re saying but you’ll always leave feeling like you’ve made a friend for life.
Yet it wasn’t simply the fabled ‘craic’ that had attracted me to the little village of Durrow at the centre of the Irish republic, but the promise of a fun and colourful festival devoted to the humble scarecrow.
2014 marks the 5th year of Durrow’s annual All Ireland Scarecrow Competition and almost 200 different scarecrows pop up around the town, many of them competing for the title of Ireland’s best strawman.
The festival is unadulterated fun. Scarecrows pop up in people’s gardens, on shop fronts, in windows, garbage bins, trees and haystacks. It’s like playing hide-and-seek with lots of potato headed friends who don’t much like to do the searching. And it’s all done with the notorious Irish sense of fun.
Walk down the street and the likeness of Eurovision winner, Conchita Wurst, welcomes you into the supermarket, while ‘Fawlty’, a local publican, is lampooned in front of his own pub. Country singer Garth Brooks – who recently cancelled his Irish tour – received the rough side of Durrow’s humour with numerous hilarious effigies, while infamous World Cup biter, Luis Suarez, was the subject of various parodies.
“Chewy” Luis, as he’s known, was even elaborately depicted attending Dr Makem-Gummy’s 3-step program of Biteology, intended on reforming the toothy footballer of his malicious mastication.
While taking in this magnificent satirical montage made out of stockings and straw, I was lucky enough to meet the scarecrow’s creator, Hugh, and his wonderful wife Kay.
This is where I need to issue a warning: Irish hospitality is like a snowball. What starts as an invite for tea quickly expands to involve cake and ice cream, and then includes invitations to stay in their house, cooked breakfasts and presents. Before you know it you are accompanying them to fantastic traditional sing-songs and sinking pints of Guinness with them in the pub.
Irish hospitality knows no bounds in its sincerity or its generosity. And that is where the real secret of Durrow’s Scarecrow festival lies.
This is one of the rare examples where an entire town gets behind an idea. Together they turn their village into a scarecrow haven, volunteer their time to make the plethora of activities happen and take real pride in their little piece of world and what they have done with it.
The whole experience was a heart-warming reminder of our capacity for ingenuity, community and humour.
In the little town of Durrow it is hard to stay a stranger.
The Durrow Scarecrow festival runs for 9 days towards the end of July and the start of August. The festival also runs concurrent with an extremely impressive Arts and Crafts Exhibition and Sale and overlaps with the month long County Laois Walks Festival, which hosts three walks a week around the county for the whole month of July.