Just days after the harvester left the field in late June, more than 35 bands and nearly 1,000 people took over the Galway farm from Cormac Jennings and Sharon Sweeney.
ocated in Aughrim, between Loughrea and Ballinasloe, Cormac and his wife, Sharon, hosted the Livestock Festival, a music and arts event, on their suckler farm, Liskelly, in early July.
The idea for a festival, Cormac says, came to the couple after they held a wedding festival on the farm to celebrate their wedding in 2019.
“When we were planning our wedding, we were discussing what options were available to us,” says Cormac. “We knew we wanted to do things differently from the norm and we had a nice field at the front of the farm with a circular fort in the middle, surrounded by beautiful beech trees.
“The land itself sparked the idea of having a festival to celebrate; everything is hidden under beautiful mature trees and it seemed like the perfect place to host people.”
In the end, the couple held a full-fledged wedding festival with 12 bands and a night of glamping for the guests. It all went so well and they received such positive feedback from their guests that they decided to put plans in place to hold an annual festival on their farm.
Cormac and Sharon originally hoped to hold their first Breeding Festival in 2020, but the pandemic caused it to be postponed until July 1-2 this year. Having been planned for the past two years, the event turned out to be bigger and better than they had first anticipated.
“We ended up having over 35 bands playing on two full stages and it was amazing; it worked better than any of us could have imagined.
They wanted to be able to ensure quality rather than quantity, Cormac says, and so they set a limit of 1,500 attendees for their first year.
“Some festivals can get messy and that’s not something we’ve always wanted. We wanted our festival to be family friendly and suitable for all ages. We wanted to have an event where people could come and relax and enjoy quality food and music, while being safe and comfortable, and that’s what we got.
As well as the musicians and bands who performed at the festival, there were also a range of local artisans who put on demonstrations.
“We had iron smelting, wooden spoon making, basket weaving and drumming. We also had yoga and meditation classes. There really was something for everyone.
“The festival had a great light atmosphere and that’s exactly what we wanted from the start.
“The basket weaver also organized for people to participate in making a sculpture of cattle from some of our recycled agricultural materials. They made a sheep, and we hope to make a different cattle sculpture every year from now on and build a collection.
Although there was quite a bit of prep work to get the farm ready for the festival, Cormac says most of it was beneficial to the farm regardless.
“A lot of the prep work was just going around the farm with a sled and a crowbar, tidying up.
“We had to resurface an old farm road for parking – it was just a day on a backhoe.
“The fencing was the most important thing – we had to re-fence a lot of the farm but, again, it was something that had to be done anyway, so it was good to have a target to be achieved and a deadline to get the job done.
“We did a major cleaning and pressure washing of the sheds and the yard. We had done this in preparation for the festival opening in 2020, and it had stayed nice and clean ever since, so we didn’t have much to do this year, which was great.
“Our friend Barra O’Flanniagh, who runs festivals, has been a fantastic help. He told us exactly what we needed to do and helped us do it. Sharon’s son Jack did all the artwork around the farm for the festival and was invaluable in making the event happen.
The silage season and grazing rotation were disrupted at the farm as preparations for the festival gathered pace.
“We left the silage until a few weeks ago so the field would be freshly cut and clean for the festival. We held the festival in front of the farm, next to the main road. Normally this is not a place to cut silage, which disrupted our pasture rotation.
“We kept the cattle at the back of the farm, two fields away from the festival, and they were thankfully oblivious to what was going on in the silage field.
“I left them two large fields to graze for a few days during the festival. They will enter the festival site in a few weeks when the grass grows back after the silage has been cut. I now look at the field wondering if it will ever grow back.
A week after the event, Cormac says evidence of the festival is barely visible and things are returning to normal on the farm.
“To be honest, you wouldn’t even know anything happened on the farm except for the new and improved fence!”
“We had a lot of people helping us, so all the urgent things were done immediately after.”
The festival isn’t the only change the farm has seen in recent times, as Cormac is currently in the process of converting to organic.
“I’m trying to bring the land to a place where we’re moving away from a production-based theme. I’m going back to how farming used to be.
“The number of cattle we are finishing varies from minute to minute as we are in the process of converting. Last year we just completed 12 feedings and that will likely increase this year.
In 2014, Cormac and Sharon planted 25 acres of woodland – mostly oak and elderberry, birch and beech in wet areas of the farm. Cormac says it was a good way to use lesser quality land while benefiting nature at the same time.
“I noticed that there were no new trees to replace the older ones – there hadn’t been any planted for about 100 years.
“The 25 acre land was of lesser quality and I just thought it would be a cool thing to do, to plant some trees. We planted over 30,000 trees – it was a bit of an indulgence for my own sake. In addition, there are quite reasonable subsidies for planting trees.