Now in its 7th year, the Dunfanaghy Jazz and Blues festival is back from the 11th to the 14th of September. Some might question why have a festival just outside of Summer, but the beauty of this festival is that there is usually a bit of Summer heat to enjoy until All Ireland Sunday. It’s a festival for those who want one last splash of the Summer and for a holiday town like Dunfanaghy, extending the tourist season is a shrewd bit of marketing. Just look at the festival’s funky chicken iconic logo strutting its stuff to see the nonchalant, but clever atmosphere that is being conveyed. Look out for the information kiosk in the square providing information on the festival and the Sheephaven Bay area.
The whole of the town comes together to ensure there is no shortage of entertainment. All of the businesses from Arnold’s Hotel to Muck ‘n Muffins, the bars, plus the golf club and the Work House throw open their doors and offer wall-to-wall entertainment throughout the weekend. It’s of a very high calibre and can properly call itself a jazz and blues festival with plenty to keep the purists happy. Plus they get the basics right – I went to a nearby festival last year that had run out of festival guides before it had even started and most of the accommodation providers had gone off to the Taste of Donegal festival. Not so in Dunfanaghy. The festival website has all bases covered – you will find accommodation and with the well-designed festival guide in your back pocket, you’re never more than five minutes away from some music – okay, that’d be a Mark English five minutes to get to the golf club gigs, but you know what I mean! A typical touch of thinking ahead can be seen in this year’s line up – Saturday afternoon has the Limavady Big Band and Errigal Groove Orchestra playing at the Square at 3pm, but if is lashing down, they tell you to go to the Church of Ireland hall. No biggie, but a nice touch. A special word of praise has to go to Fintan Moloney taxation and financial consultants, the chief sponsor of the event for the last few years. His contribution effectively underwrites the festival and deserves to be acknowledged.
Big treats last year were discovering the correct door to enter The Mill restaurant (don’t ask), savouring the delights of the Starfish cafe, finding a great array of local craft beers in most places (look out for Muckish Mountain’s Miner’s Red Ale, the voluptuous Donegal Blonde and Kinnegar’s stellar range), a long sunny walk around nearby Ards Forest Park and playing a great game of Dunfanaghy pub pinball as we tried to get in as many gigs as possible. Look out for Ronnie Greer, Lee Hadley, Grainne Duffy, Marion Jordan, show stoppers Johnnie Gallagher and the Boxty Band and of course, almost hometown boys, In Their Thousands whose wrap up gig on Sunday is a wonderful emphatic finale to a great weekend of music and mirth.
Dunfanaghy describes itself as being located between the hills and the Atlantic Ocean, boasting a Blue Flag beach, the spectacular Hornhead cliffs and much more. Coyly, they suggest ‘that we don’t take our word for it you can come and see for yourself’. It is no word of a lie to say the location of the town is stunning with Horn Head to one side and Ards Forest Park plus two great beaches and a golf course to the other side. What gives Dunfanaghy the edge is that there’s a real sense of purpose about what makes a town great for visiting: there are a series of great outdoors activities organised by professional outfits combined with a high standard of accommodation and a wonderful selection of eateries and hostelries to let your hair down. Writing in ISLE magazine’s debut cover story a while back, I described the town as being that cool place you hope to discover on your break to Ireland. My enjoyment of last year’s festival simply compounded that opinion. The town has done its homework and even if the kids have just gone back to school, the grown ups should definitely be out to play for this last Summer treat.