Hay Festival Kells 2014 finished yesterday, after four (no doubt) glorious days; the weather was showery-but-generally-pretty-okay, the speakers and events were top-notch, and the town buzzed with book fever. So, naturally, The Husband and I made a beeline for it. Last year we spent three days at Hay Kells, almost bankrupting ourselves and overloading our car with book purchases, so this year we decided ‘all things in moderation.’ One day sufficed, we convinced ourselves.
It didn’t, really. But we made the best of it.
Kells is a lovely town, oozing history out of every stick and stone. One end has an ancient graveyard, the other a medieval church and round tower; Celtic crosses (in various states of disrepair, thanks in large part to Oliver Cromwell and his marauding forces) can be found in various locations. Outside of the town is a large folly named the Tower of Lloyd, built during a time of terrible hardship. From the viewing platform at its top, a huge swathe of the surrounding countryside can be seen, including a Famine graveyard. So, clearly, you’re never short of a way to spend your time, particularly if, like us, you’re interested in history and culture.
However, this year, we were there for the books, and just the books.
It’s wonderful to see the whole town come together in support of the Hay festival; second-hand bookshops pop up everywhere, and every shop decorates its windows with books to get into the Hay spirit. There’s live music, cookery demonstrations, talks by some of the world’s leading literary figures, a massive focus on children’s events and children’s books, and even a celebration of typography, rejoicing in letters and words in their raw form. This year, we only attended one talk, given by Professor Declan Kiberd on the history of Irish children’s literature (though, of course, it was far more wide-ranging than that, taking into account history and philosophy and anthropology and the reasons why adults write children’s literature and what sort of agendas they bring to it), and it was fascinating. We heard a brass band recital, and we visited the food market (barely restraining ourselves from eating everything in sight), and – of course – we visited many, many book purveyors.
I love conversing with people who love books, and nobody’s better at that than a person who sells them for a living. We chatted to loads of interesting (and slightly batty, but all in a good sense) folk who live amongst and for their books, taking advice and recommendations, discussing literature and culture as a whole, and discovering how much fun it is to take time out and just talk to people. There’s something about a festival spirit that brings out the raconteur in everyone, and that, in itself, is to be celebrated – and if there are books involved, all to the better.
If you have a chance to get to Kells next year – when, I sincerely hope, the Hay Festival will be returning – I couldn’t recommend it more highly. And, of course, look me up; you’ll probably find me snout-first in a big old box of children’s books…