May Sunday Festival in East Cork celebrates history, creativity and ecology 

May Sunday Festival and Art Trail comes to Killeagh this month. JENNIFER HORGAN catches up with the co-ordinator to find out more
May Sunday Festival in East Cork celebrates history, creativity and ecology 

Jessica Bonenfant of Greywood Arts Creative Hub & Artist Residency, Killeagh, Co. Cork. Picture Clare Keogh

GLENBOWER woods will be a hub of creativity from April 29 to May 14, when it plays host to the May Sunday Festival, a celebration of the history, creativity and ecology of Killeagh, County Cork.

I caught up with Jessica Bonenfant, Artistic Director of Greywood Arts Residency and Festival Co-ordinator to get a sense of what’s in store for visitors to the area across the two weeks.

This is certainly a festival with deep roots in the community. It has been running for over 200 years but has only recently been extended beyond a day or a weekend.

The festivities were originally put on by the local wealthy landlord who would invite villagers onto his land to admire his renovations. Then it moved to the town before moving back into the woods again.

The woods are unique in that they are now proudly owned by the local community.

So too with the festival. It is by the people, for the people, Jessica says, before sharing her amazement at the creativity she encounters in local people.

“I am blown away by the creativity, not just from artists but from members of the community,” the passionate organiser adds.

“The festival is really a celebration of everybody’s creativity. It is a celebration of place and tradition and connectedness.”

There is a wonderful range of contributors.

“Five of the ten installations were created by artists who responded to an open call from Greywood Arts. Four come from local people of all ages and backgrounds and the tenth is a piece that’s been in place since last Halloween by artist Aoife Banville.”

All pieces relate to human connection to the natural world, she explains – the impact we have on it and vice versa.

There is a consideration of the contrast between what is manmade and what is natural or wild also.

Mossy and Rúbaí Coffey Kenny with Jessica Bonenfant of Greywood Arts enjoying the magic of Glenbower Woods, which will host the May Sunday Festival & Art Trail, from 29 April to 14 May 2023. Picture: Clare Keogh
Mossy and Rúbaí Coffey Kenny with Jessica Bonenfant of Greywood Arts enjoying the magic of Glenbower Woods, which will host the May Sunday Festival & Art Trail, from 29 April to 14 May 2023. Picture: Clare Keogh

Local Creativity

It has been all hands on deck in recent weeks around Killeagh in preparation for this special time. The sixth class children in St Fergal’s national school have created beautiful white paper mâché orbs to hang over the wild garlic flowers in the woods. Children at the Kyle school are creating flowers from felt.

Being a small school, every child will play a part in the creation. A local youth group of 12 and 13 year olds are also working on an exploration of analogue technologies. This will involve experimental storytelling using old slides.

“One piece has been created by Ukrainian and Irish women under the instruction of art facilitator Katie Nolan, who is incredible. The 11 women created batiks depicting the interconnectedness of the roots of trees. This acts as a stunning metaphor for human connection, also designed to spark dialogue about displacement and human bonds. A two and a half metre vertical panel will hang from the trees.”

Signage will accompany each piece explaining what the work is about as the festival is designed to be inclusive and understandable.

What to expect

Expect an expansive range of creative expression, from music to dance to performance to art. The art trail will run throughout the woods with installations at various spots.

“There’s a lot to see and discover. One is a kitchen installation, another involves human figures made of a mirrored surface reflecting the trees and elsewhere is a literal sound bath, a bath filled with old moss and natural sounds.”

The art trail is also interactive. The kitchen installation in the second week becomes a challenge wherein visitors must find or forage for missing ceramic pieces. This include a foraging talk entitled Meals on Coill(s) by Jaki Coffey. A sound installation on the bridge invites people to listen through speakers. The bridge becomes a speaker.

There will also be workshops available in botanical printing on silk; May bush-making; a wildsong workshop; a dawn chorus walk and a dogsercise adventure walk.

“It is a really lovely way to explore a beautiful place, to explore nature. It will hopefully attract people who might think that art is not for them. We hope the interactive element will take the fear away.

“We hope that people will come throughout the week as it’s a very well-used spot that people visit to enjoy morning and evening walks.”

On all three weekends, if you want to step in from the great outdoors, artists from the Mór Artist Collective are exhibiting their work in the Greywood studio Coach House Creative Hub. The grand opening of the studio, only just refurbished, will occur on the first Saturday of the festival and run every weekend day after. There will also be an interactive element here with a little listening station sharing a podcast with two men from active retirement, talking about their lives and how they ended up playing music.

Entry to the woods and the studio is free of charge with small fees for workshops.

The full programme is available to download see

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