Cedar Lewisohn: Drop Everything takes place on the beautiful island of Inis Oírr. How did you first discover the island?
Mary Nally: I’m from Galway which is in the west of Ireland on the Wild Atlantic Way – Inis Oírr is one of the Aran Islands, which is just across Galway Bay. I’ve sort of always just known about it more than discovered it, but as a location for the event, it was after bringing some designers from Paris to meet a local knitter that sparked the idea.
CL: I was very interested in the food projects that took place as part of the festival. Can you tell me some more about how they came about? I also had some really interesting conversations with people about the edible wildflowers and plants that grow on the island. The taste of some of them was amazing. The fennel and wild leeks were spectacular.
MN: I used to work in a restaurant called Ard Bia in Galway (they are also our founding patron); they introduced me to the wonders of food and flavours from around the world. Since then I’ve met some incredibly talented growers and cooks, and each DE we invite some of those people to work with us and the locals of Inis Oírr to create meals. This year we worked again with Ard Bia and Dublin’s The Fumbally café, as well as the chef Katie Sanderson; they all collaborated with islanders who provided locally-grown potatoes and herbs. They also made us bread and cakes, and Joe the fisherman caught us fresh pollock. It’s important to use produce that is a locally sourced and to have an appreciation for the land, sea and nature around us. A local described the cooks as artists with food, which is essentially exactly what they are.
CL: I loved the fact that Inis Oírr is an island with no police, but also, seemingly, no crime. The crowd at the festival seemed so happy and friendly; do you think it’s the island itself that creates this atmosphere, or is it something you work on?
MN: It’s definitely something we encourage. I think when people are offered a space to self-police, without regular rules and restrictions, they feel freer so have less to get angry about or push against. Also, the very nature of being on an island encourages people to work together and consider each other. It’s about mutual respect.
CL: The storytelling event, with Irish authors from Galway and Dublin doing readings alongside islanders, was fantastic. The setting, in the sunshine, on the beach in front of the old steam trawler, the Plassey, was sublime. I also loved the way they gave out crab broth halfway through the readings. How did this event came into being?
MN: This event was proposed to me by the film director, Dave Tynan; it sounded fitting so we made it happen. Dave works with a group of lads who produced an art project called 4 Bothies [4bothies.com]. I’d had them to speak at DE14 and for DE16 Story Boat it just seemed like the right fit. So I linked them in with some local writers and our friend Eoin Coyle, who made the crab soup, and they brought the rest of the writers and the sun did its bit. Originally it was to take place on a boat at sea, but things don’t always work out as planned here… Still, the Plassey made for a pretty epic backdrop.