All’s Swell that ends Swell on Arranmore

Festival-goers relaxing at the Swell Festival on Arranmore.

LET’S cut straight to the chase here – the Swell Festival is not the best festival you will ever attend, writes Conor Sharkey.

In fairness it has never claimed to be.


What sets it apart from other such get-togethers though is its heart. Where most festivals are about headline acts, selling tickets and making money, Swell focuses more on bringing people together to have the craic.

And it manages that in spades. Not only is it craic, it is three days of pure unadulterated craic.

Held each year on Arranmore Island, Swell would also have a strong argument as the most breathtaking setting for a festival, not just in Ireland but on earth. You heard me, on the entire planet.

Tagged on at the very end of the Earagail Arts Festival, the very short synopsis of Swell is this: From a Friday to a Sunday night people pitch tents, drink cans and enjoy band after band after band.

Those bands range from the whacky to the downright weird to the simply wonderful – Yes Grainne Hunt I’m looking at you when I use that last adjective.

Last Saturday I caught the ferry to Arranmore and rolled out my ground sheet. After that I rolled out a can of Carlsberg, put on my flip flops and let all my woes and stress drift off across the broad Atlantic right there in front of me. And I wasn’t the only one – all around me people were engaging in a similar balancing act, drink in one hand, tent pegs in the other.

That sort of set the scene for the entire weekend – beer, bands, burgers and beach walks.


The band Pandora Ills who rocked this year’s Swell Festival.

Saturday saw an array of acts sing, shout, chant and preach their offerings, including a guy in a PVC costume and another who, for some reason, pulled on a balaclava.

The party continued late into the night until most, although not all, retired crookedly to their sleeping bags.

Any notion of a hangover on Sunday morning was quickly banished as people zipped open their abodes to be greeted by the spectacular sight of boats bobbing gently on the ocean just a few yards away.

Sunday also brought with it a more gentle, family feel and a distinct Irish flavour. Among those to take the stage were Moya Brennan of Clannad fame, the fantastic Clann Mhic Ruairí, Scannal and the aforementioned Grainne Hunt.

From early afternoon into the small hours of Monday it was non-stop music as act after act got up to do their thing.

The sun shone, the beer flowed and the atmosphere was beyond friendly, it was camaradic.

There was even time for some creative dancing.

I recently wrote about this year’s Sea Sessions and I described it as an absolute triumph, which it was, it truly was.

The Swell Festival is also a triumph, but in a very different fashion. It is a triumph in that at its little heart is not capitalism but community, not profiteering but people.

Arranmore, thank you for a truly wonderful experience.

As for you Swell, all being well I’ll see you again in 12 months time.


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