After a long day, leaving Limerick before 4am and with a flight delay to get to know Helsinki Airport very well, I arrived in Oulu Friday night and was greeted by Brent Cassidy, director of the Irish Festival of Oulu. Brent hosted me in his home for two nights. I was able to spend the weekend exploring the area near his house by bike, heading through forest to the beach. On Saturday evening we headed to an Irish session which was amazing and bizarre. It’s odd to be so far north, to be the only Irish person, and to feel almost less Irish than everyone here. It’s definitely making me wish I could play more than ‘Twinkle twinkle’ on the tin whistle. Brent is fluent in Irish so it’s lovely to be able to speak a bit again, though I’ll admit I’m struggling with his Ulster Irish tongue. Flashbacks to that part of the Leaving Cert tape test!
On Sunday I met Anna Kaisa, who will come to Limerick as part of this exchange in November. I’m staying with her now until the festival starts next week. We went to an event at her workplace where we ate and watched some Finnish Improv Comedy. Luckily I got a running English commentary from her as so far in Finnish I can only say hello, goodbye, milk, gluten free and bag (and the odd expletive!).
Monday was the first day at the Irish Festival office in Culture Centre Valve. Brent took me on a tour and introduced me to some of the staff members there. It’s an amazing facility with a café, theatre, studios, and offices for various cultural organisations.
It’s been very grey since I arrived so I was really glad to see light today when the sun came out and I took a gorgeous walk around in the evening. The Autumn colours here are spectacular.
Tuesday was European Day of Languages and the Irish Festival was invited to perform and have a stand at an event at the nearby shopping centre. Anna Kaisa and I handed out festival programmes and spoke to people about the festival. With my handful of Finnish words and their mostly excellent English I didn’t do too badly. The festival definitely has a good reputation in the area. Almost everyone we spoke with already knew about it. But there are similar struggles here as at home with getting people to attend and especially to book tickets in advance.
The rest of this week was spent preparing the artist packs and itineraries for next week. I’ve been slowly getting to know all the members of the team and am being well looked after by everyone. Anna Kaisa and Asta, the festival producer, took me to sample my first reindeer stew on Thursday so just so everyone knows – I ate it…it’s delicious…sorry Santa!
On Thursday evening the 30 plus volunteers came to a meeting at Valve to go through the schedule and roles. It was a good chance for everyone to meet over pizza and get to know each other and the festival a bit more.
We ended the week by beginning to decorate Valve with an explosion of festival balloons and posters. Slowly taking over the place! I also had a really interesting meeting with the director of Valve, Arja Huotari, who shared loads of information about this great cultural centre they have here. It really is an amazing space for supporting artists with both office, rehearsal and performance space. There are some wonderful photography exhibitions hanging at the moment and the place is always buzzing with visitors to the café and the comic store and with people attending various dance and other classes. It was great to be able to chat to her about Limerick too and the projects we have going on and about the Belltable:Connect programme I’m on. All these international connections are so important to have and this is a really great opportunity to learn how things operate in other countries.
The countdown is on for the festival now. I’ll be taking over the @irishfestoulu Twitter account next week so do follow along there with all the madness of the most northern Irish festival in the world! Hei hei!