We are in Ireland, changeable weather is a constant, and needs to be factored in when organising an outdoor event. On the other hand, it can also come in handy as an excuse. Which was our first impression when we travelled to the Battle of Kells Medieval Fayre on a rainy Saturday morning. Because … well, let me tell you a story:
A Saturday Not to Remember
Being a bit late, at 10.15, we arrived in Kells after the first two events of the day should have been in full swing – the knights riding through town, and a battle at the local SuperValu. Traffic was mayhem, true, but that was due to building works, no knight to be seen. And the parking spaces at and around the supermarket were full of cars, not combatants. Also missing were any signposts as to where the Fayre was actually to take place. So a trek through the rain and the town, finally asking in a shop, back to where we passed twice. A field. Mostly empty, see above.
While we strolled onto the field, slightly bemused, an official approached us. “Can I help you? The event has been semi-cancelled due to the weather, many people are not here, come back tomorrow, but you are free to look around …” We pointed out that we wanted to pick up the media passes first. “Ah, yes, media passes … they have not arrived yet, never mind …” Also not arrived yet had the mobile toilets, about 90% of the promised attractions (a rough guess), the signposts. I remarked that this was not quite a good organisational effort then. He smiled and went away …
We did as bidden, felt free to look around. With a keen eye on the ground, because the event arena was nothing less that a pasture for bovines. Uneven, unkempt, and with generous dollops of fresh cowshit. Talking to some people on the field it seemed that the field was not opened the day before, rumours were flying that the farmer did not have the insurance paperwork from the organisers yet. After talking to some stallholders and other participants, who were left about as clueless about proceedings as us, we decided to call it a day. We headed back home, to return the next day.
Meanwhile, the Facebook presence of the Fayre announced that the event was postponed to start at 12.30 – as the jousting crew could not perform on the wet ground. However, at 13.30 people were still turned away, it seems, being told the Saturday was cancelled. And in the evening the boss of the jousters added some spice to the mix by pointing out that they would have performed anyway, but that it was the organisers’ decision to pull the event.
Let it be said that an open-air Viking Picnic was in full swing during the day just a few kilometres away, apparently less prone to weather, well patronised, signposted … while conflicting messages appeared on the Fayre’s Facebook page in the evening, hinting at serious discontent within the committee (“infighting” was mentioned, and some events later made public, like the mobile toilets being sent away again, were nothing short of sabotage).
A Sunday Almost Completely Wasted
After the organisers announced that the event would be going ahead as planned, helpfully linking to their programme, and despite the promised update from the “safety officer” never appearing, we set off again on Sunday morning.
To, again, arrive at a field where no signposting existed, and where nobody actually knew what was going on – some volunteers were putting on a brave face, but were obviously clueless. One ensured us that “all events are going ahead as planned”, but after we pointed out that that would mean there was currently knights marching through town and a foot battle happening in the aforementioned car park, both of which obviously were not happening, his confidence faltered. Attempts to actually speak to anybody responsible for the organisation failed, due to nobody being on the spot. Neither were toilets, first aiders (at least not visible), decent food stalls (the Polish barista was doing his best, though), the barriers the jousters needed to perform.
Mentioning which … they were set to perform at 12.30, due to the barriers (which should actually have been in place the day before) not being ready, this fell through. And as it started to rain again at 14.00, we decided to call it a day. The jousting actually went ahead later, from images seen on social media it was a very wet affair … but at least not everything at the Battle of Kells was doom and gloom, as I can say with a good conscience.
Having meanwhile managed to speak to an organiser, whose explanation of the whole shambles was more mystifying than anything: infighting was mentioned, committee members actively sabotaging the event was mentioned, even darker doings were hinted at. Meanwhile an exhibitor that arrived at the eleventh hour to salvage a few bits and pieces of what could have been a great event was bad-mouthed (literally) behind his back (hint: never do this when a media person is a. present, and b. already has spoken at length with this person). And actually getting hold of an organiser proved to be difficult … with loud and emotional discussions about moneys owed flaring up in full view of the public not helping the situation.
On Facebook people were asking about food stalls – no answer from the organisers, but a mention of the “Druid Chef” (whose performance was underwhelming, not due to any fault of his own, and whose cooking was certainly not “one for everyone in the audience”). Well, there was one catering guy driving onto the field with a chippie trailer, he turned around and left again. Or maybe I was having hallucinations. Also published on Facebook was another exhortation to come to the Fayre, at around 15.00, saying “Everyone is having a fantastic day so far, so come down and join us!” That would have been after the first traders had packed their stuff … one already outspoken stallholder upped sticks shortly after midday.
I could go on, but frankly, you get the drift – and if anybody had forked out 20 € for a weekend pass for an event that never happened on Saturday and was free until somebody belatedly started to charge the public dribbling in on Sunday (at 5 € an adult), I hope that reimbursements will be swift and uncomplicated.
Where Did It All Go Wrong?
Buggered if I know … the organisers were a bit mysterious about the whole thing. The mentioned infighting and sabotage, plus the witnessing of disputes about moneys owed on Sunday, plus the “new committee in place trying to rescue the event”, and the passing reference to the banker (on Facebook and in person of the field) hint at an organisational shambles that was beyond salvation. The state of the field, sloping and full with bovine excrement, was never the best for such an event. The infrastructure, from signposting to toilets, was completely lacking. Communications was an unholy mess, with Facebook and Twitter giving the impression of the event somehow going ahead on Saturday, with the event website never at all mentioning the Saturday cancellation, but still offering tickets.
Plus there were our long, and very frank, talks with many people on the field, traders and reenactors … many of which were “off the record” (we made it a point to be very open about our media status, no trickery involved), but offered astonishing insights. Basically we did not meet one happy bunny on the field, the fun of the Fayre was gone before it even properly started.
At this moment in time we feel that the Battle of Kells Medieval Fayre will be consigned to the archives as a one-off event, and we’d be surprised if anybody broke even on the event. Yet the organisers promised on Facebook “we will do better next year”. Obviously, they’ll have to. If they do at all.
So, in the end, am I being unfair if I deem the Battle of Kells Medieval Fayre to have been less than a success, an organisational shambles, and all-in-all a waste of time? I can only compare, to professionally run events like the Irish Game & Country Fair in Birr, or one-off, amateur-driven events like the glorious Battle of Clontarf Festival in 2014, and any number of med-ren festivals witnessed in on the continent. And, truth to say, all were better, by miles, whether they’d be first events or building on experience.
On the other hand, there’s always the old saying that learning from mistakes is possible – but that implies that you survive these mistakes. And the survival of the Kells event, at least to me, seems to be unlikely. I’ll gladly be proven wrong …
How long has it taken you to read this article in full? Well, I assume longer than it took the person running the Battle of Kells Medieval Fayre Facebook presence on Monday morning to take down a link and ban us from their page. By the way … the link was in response to a posting asking for feedback and promising that they “will respond to all feedback positive and negative”. I guess hitting delete is a response too.
Later in the day, the Facebook page of the Battle of Kells unblocked us again, the link has been made visible again and also reposted by another party. The reaction of the official now handling the page seems to say it all:
Note that the whole Facebook page was later deleted …