A maypole festival demands a maypole.
That was the first challenge for organisers of the inaugural Maypole Festival in Finglas, says Ernie Beggs, its chairman.
They looked at telephone poles but were afraid they’d have creosote on them, he says.
In Howth one day, buying fish and eating ice cream, he wandered by one of the shipyards and had a brainwave.
“We went in and sure enough there was an old mast there for us,” says Beggs. It’s off an old 1916 boat called Westin Star, he says.
Last week, they put the pole on the back of a lorry which hauled it from Howth to Erin’s Isle, a local GAA club in Finglas.
Soon, the wooden pole will be sanded and varnished and put in pride of place at the centre of the Finglas Maypole Festival.
It’s an event that organisers hope will help to breathe new life into the north Dublin village.
“It’s 24 feet is it?” says John Cromwell, vice chairman and treasurer at the festival.
He’s crouched over the long weather-stained wooden pole, which is nestled between an old shipping container and the club’s changing facilities.
“It is,” says Eddie Byrne, the sporting events co-ordinator of the festival.
He’d questioned if it would be big enough for the May bank holiday weekend festivities here at Erin’s Isle.
“I’m just going to cover it with these,” says Cromwell. He lays what look like split plastic gutters across the mast to protect it.
Beggs, Cromwell and Byrne are all Finglas natives, although Byrne now lives in Clongriffin.
Old friends, Beggs and Cromwell have a keen interest in folk music, and got some of their ideas for the festival from gigs and festivals they’ve attended together.
They got in touch with Byrne after he organised a football match two years ago to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Rivermount and Tolka Rovers meeting in the FAI youth football final.
And that brought the the main organising committee together.
As Beggs, Byrne and Cromwell walked through Finglas village on a dreary, cloudy Friday, they pointed out its past and its present – while speculating about its future.
Cutting through the village is a green pedestrian walkway running over the busy Finglas Road, connecting the centre to Saint Canice’s graveyard, home to the Nethercross, which dates back to ninth or tenth century, says Beggs.
Surrounding it are modern apartments and a parking area for the few remaining open shops on Church Street.
Beggs points to the spot where a maypole once stood, in the centre of the village, now marked by a monument to Dick McKee, a prominent member of the Irish Republican Army during the War of Independence.
Just across the road, Cromwell points to The Drake Inn, a place that used to be the centre point of the town, he says, where bands played and people fell in love.
“It’s been closed for the past seventeen years,” he says. But it’s a place, he says, that could make an ideal arts centre if only it had the investment.
“You need a draw in this area if you’re going to kickstart this area,” says Beggs.
Before the recession hit, says Fianna Fáil Councillor David Costello, a Finglas native, there was a plan to redevelop the village.
“The main shopping centre was supposed to be demolished and it was to be mixed residential,” says Costello. “A new village was essentially to be built in the middle of Finglas.” None of this happened.
However, in recent years, more cafes have opened in Finglas, says Costello. That’s more because people living there having more income than any overarching plan for the village, he says.
The Finglas Maypole Festival is also a part of this ad-hoc revival of the village. Scheduled for 4–5 of May, the organisers say it will include live music, arts events and sports – and that there will be a focus on Finglas’ famous sons and daughters.
“Because sports is involved with the maypole, we have organised soccer matches,” says Byrne. They’ll be a penalty competition for boys and girls – and for adults, too.
There’ll be an over-35s football match, and a question-and-answers session at Erin’s Isle with former League of Ireland footballers Pat Fenlon and Derek Brazil and former Dublin footballers and members of Erin’s Isle Johnny Barr and Charlie Redmond.
There will also be a Queen of the May competition and live music acts hailing from Finglas and beyond. And there’s a plan to unveil a blue plaque for Séamus Ennis, the famous uilleann piper and song collector from Finglas, on the centenary of his birth.
It will be the first blue plaque in Finglas. Both Beggs and Cromwell, who were on the blue plaque committee for Ennis, were keen to tie the festival in with an important cultural occasion for the village.
Why the Maypole?
The gang had talked about a festival celebrating the people of Finglas for a few years, says Beggs.
“We researched the history of the maypole and we realised that the maypole was quite a big draw during May Day,” he says.
There used to be games, such as climbing a greased maypole to retrieve a prize, catching a shaved pig, and other competitions between different villages, he says.
There’s a sign in Finglas beside the Dick McKee monument where the Maypole used to stand.
The May Day celebration there used to attract “large numbers of revellers from Dublin who enjoyed all kinds of sports and games”, it reads.
“But, over time, the traditional fair gradually descended into drunken debauchery and by the 1830s had fallen into decline,” it says.
The maypole tradition seemed like an obvious choice for a namesake for the festival, tying together the the desire to make it a draw once again, with the history of Finglas as a centre to celebrate in.
“They considered Finglas to be the Ibiza of the day,” says Beggs, with a laugh.
All events for the Finglas Maypole Festival will be free, but the festival will be hosting fundraisers on 19 and 26 April at The Village Inn.