Life

Lynette Fay: Feeling the freedom of the festival bubble

Marissa Callaghan and the entire squad are history-makers and trailblazers for thousands of girls who play soccer... It's fantastic to see such an appetite for women's sport

The Northern Ireland players, pictured before their first UEFA Women's Euro 2022 match against Norway, showed tremendous character in a tough encounter.
The Northern Ireland players, pictured before their first UEFA Women's Euro 2022 match against Norway, showed tremendous character in a tough encounter.

LAST weekend, I spent two very happy days walking around Ballymully Cottage Farm, just off the Drumsurn Road in Limavady, at the Stendhal Festival.

The Cartwright family and their team have created a little bit of summer magic in their farm fields over the last 12 years. There are music performance areas – on conventional stages, in the woods, there's a big top, a secret garden, craft stalls and lots of food and drink.

Families gathered, children gleefully rolled up and down the hill, the more mud the better. It was blissful.

I did my best Jo Whiley impression and joined much younger colleagues to co-present the Radio Ulster coverage which brought listeners all the fun of the festival.

Local music was celebrated, it was great for the soul to see many of our local heroes perform live again. I love discovering new music, which always happens at festivals – I am now Winnie Ama's biggest fan – and then legends like Sister Sledge and Hayseed Dixie bring the party to the next level.

There was so much to take in. I had to dig deep into my stamina reserves to stay up past my bedtime and my festival chic needs work but, my goodness, what a couple of days.

I have never camped in my life. I'm not sure I'm the camping type. I think I would even struggle with glamping. I stayed in a hotel on the Friday night (I know...) and as I returned to my car, I wondered what must it be like to live in the surrounding area with thousands camping out under the stars, literally in your back yard.

I have no idea why, but on my way to Stendhal, when I turned right in Dungiven and drove cross country towards Ballymully, I felt lighter.

I was on site for hours with no mobile reception. I was cut off from reality for two days, and very happy to live in my little festival bubble for the first time in years. All within an hour's drive of where I live. It's hard to beat.

You know when you've been to a great festival when you eventually come up for air and have to play catch-up with what's going on in the world.

I used to have the same experience when I was coming home from spending summers in the Donegal Gaeltacht. We had no mobile devices back then in what now feels like the Stone Age. We were so wrapped up in enjoying the experience that we disengaged with everything else going on in the world. That's always the sign of a good holiday, isn't it?

My favourite festival bubble has long been the Ulster Fleadh and the All-Ireland Fleadh. Both are back with a bang this year after a three-year hiatus.

The Ulster Fleadh takes place in Dromore, Co Tyrone next week and I cannot wait. The streets will be full of music, it will be great to see familiar faces after such a long time, to see musicians I have known as children all grown up and to discover the new and up and coming talent. There has been plenty of time to practice. From memory, the phone signal in Dromore isn't great, so I will enjoy being off grid again and very much in the moment.

Before that though, it's off to the Euros. I am Southampton-bound this week to catch up with the fans and hype of the Women's Euros.

The Northern Ireland team played bravely and brilliantly in their first match ever in the competition on Thursday night, losing 4-1 to the experienced Norway side. Tonight the adventure continues against Austria, with the tournament hosts England next up on Friday.

It's wonderful to see images of the women's teams on billboards, to see this tournament covered so well. Marissa Callaghan and the entire squad are history-makers and trailblazers for thousands of girls who play soccer. No doubt even more will be encouraged to play or get involved in the sport in some way because of this championship.

A lot has happened to catapult women's soccer to this level in a very short space of time, and this kind of profile is long overdue for the women's game.

No-one sees the relentless behind the scenes and often thankless work that goes into getting to this level. It's fantastic to see such an appetite for women's sport. The Women's Euros is another festival I'll happily get lost in this year.