Louise Stickland donned her 'posh' wellies and joined in the crac in Co. Tipperary for a distinctly different St. Patrick's Day
For the first time ever, Ireland’s primary St. Patrick’s Day spectacular event moved out of Dublin to beautiful Cashel in County Tipperary, for a live Saturday night prime time broadcast on RTÉ 1.
The Skyfest event has traditionally been a fireworks show, but this year, Donal Sheils, chief executive of the St Patrick’s Day Committee, decided the time was right to add some additional visual elements to the spectacle as well as shifting it to a charismatic site-specific location.
Peter Canning from Dublin-based design company High Resolution Lighting and Ross Ashton from large format projection specialist E/T/C London started speaking to Sheils after last year’s festival about the whole concept. The idea was that they would come onboard as LD and projection designer respectively to devise a mixed-media show — along with pyro — that could be staged at the Rock of Cashel.
Ashton devised an original storyboard for the projection which included symbols, images and texturing based on the Rock’s rich history which dates back to the 12th century.
The majority of buildings at the summit of the Rock of Cashel’s current site date from the 12th and 13th centuries, although Cashel itself dates back much further, and is reputedly the site of the conversion of the King of Munster by St. Patrick in the 5th century A.D. The buildings have a complex mass and outline rivalling other sites in western Europe. The earliest is the distinctive Round Tower, and the whole collection has a unique, native ambience rated among the most remarkable collections of Celtic art and medieval architecture in Europe.
It is absolutely the perfect site for a St Patrick’s Day celebration in many ways. A prime viewing area at the foot of the rock was negotiated with one of the local farmers for 40,000 people to enjoy impressive views of the event... and the wheels were in motion.
Despite the distinctly historic setting, and the need to keep it tasteful and appropriate, Canning and Ashton proposed that the lighting and projection show injected some rock’n’roll “attitude” into the whole presentation. The final format of the show was not fully agreed upon until a few weeks before the show, at which time a music track was compiled by Dublin-based DJ Mark McCabe and freelancer Karen Monid.
Once the 16 minute music track was signed off, OB facilities company Observe burnt a master and distributed time-coded copies to lighting, projection and pyro departments.
Very early on in the process, Canning also asked PRG’s Richard Gorrod to come onboard his team as crew chief, along with lighting programming guru Mike ‘Oz’ Owen, with a view to PRG Cine Electric and Syncrolite supplying the lighting kit that was always likely to include several large light sources.
“It was important to have a strong crew to work to a tight schedule on a difficult site,” explained Canning. “Those two are both right at the top of their specialist areas and we have all worked together very successfully before. Oz’s creative input and experience along with Rich’s eye for the finer logistical points meant that we picked the right lighting fixtures for the specific applications.”
Searchlights were chosen to backlight the Castle ruins, with nine 10kW Syncrolites positioned on the mountain behind — making for a spectacular tricolor effect skimming the top of the ruins, the powerful beams wafting through the smoke and appearing mysteriously from nowhere!
“One of the aims from a design point of view was to conceal as much lighting hardware as possible,” confirmed Canning. Inside the Castle itself he placed six 6kW Syncrolites, which blasted out through the roof and windows for some cool, broken up Gothic effects.
Twenty Studio Due City Colors (a mix of 1800W and 2500W) were dotted around the walls, strategically positioned to illuminate the many nooks, crannies, shadowy corners and folds of the Castle. The PIGI projection which was layered on top of the lighting was all in black and white, enabling the base colours to be changed by big bold swoops of lighting.
A total of 20 narrow PARs were focused to up-light and reveal smaller architectural details and elements like walls, windows and columns.
Eight Martin MAC 2000s in weatherised domes were used to pick out the elevated section of the buildings in the centre, along with two more fixtures outside specifically highlighting the Round Tower.
Canning used six Hungaroflash 85000W strobes — three inside and three outside — to silhouette and/or blast out the walls of the buildings at strategic moments in the music track. Several hundred metres down the hill in the direction of the viewing field, the lower sections of the castle’s perimeter wall were lit with 100 PAR cans.
All the dimmers and PDs were tucked away under one of the rare areas of solid roof coverage in the Castle, along with the back-up Virtuoso console.
The main console, also a Virtuoso, was down at the FOH area 500m away, just in front of the public and VIP viewing areas, connected by fibre optic cable. Physically getting from the Castle to the FOH position was via a good two mile/10 minute drive along winding roads — just another little quirky edge to the whole masterplan in true Irish style.
PRG also supplied four crew — Chris Henry, Aidan McCabe, Philip Sharp and Gareth Morgan — in addition to Gorrod and Owen. They teamed up with three High Res Lighting crew: Tommy Perrott, Alba Valles Novella and Meadhbh NiThuairisg.
Having ‘Oz’ as the programmer and E/T/C London’s Ross Ashton as the projectionist really brought the whole show to life. Their input and suggestions were invaluable for the entire production process.
The show was triggered entirely by timecode sent from the Observe OB truck which dealt with all the lighting, projection and pyro cues.
Ashton has worked on some unusual and interesting sites in his time, and described the Rock of Cashel as hitting all the tick boxes for a great show: “Incredible... amazing architecture, lots of idiosyncrasies, not to mention the perfect and challenging location.”
Ashton came up with several design ideas for the space at the initial planning stages, from which they chose to go with the black and white images. He said: “That’s been the creatively exciting part of it for me. I have had to think very carefully in terms of the images I’ve chosen and the information they will convey.”
The projection content very much reflected the music, with lots of Celtic patterns forming a mix of abstract and geometric. The music was extremely dynamic, from U2 and Sinéad O’Connor to ancient Celtic folk, allowing Ashton to take advantage of the whole palette of different movements and tricks offered by the double rotating scrollers on front of the projectors.
Four PIGI 6kW projectors were lined up on to the four main walls of the Castle. They were positioned in close proximity about 25m away, each with 22cm lenses and a double rotating scroller on the front containing approximately 10m of film. The Xenon white of the PIGIs also proved to be a good continuity match with the Xenon of the Synchrolites.
The PIGI show was programmed and run by Erlwin de Gans via E/T/C’s proprietary OnlyCue system, and he was joined on the crew by Richard Porter, with E/T/C London’s Paul Highfield handling the logistics.
Site and power for all technical departments at the Castle was provided by Agrekko and Irish Company, Event Power.
Pyro was supplied by Kimbolton Fireworks and designed by display director Darryl Fleming. With 16 crew, they utilised approximately four tons of explosives and 10km of cable for the 16 minute show, firing aerial effects from left, right and centre positions in front of the Castle, plus 25 other locations across a width of 250m in front of the Rock, the idea being to give a very wide frontage and framing for the pyro show.
Effects included a massive waterfall along the perimeter wall, which ran for 1.5 minutes. The 2,500 odd cues were triggered via a digital Fire 1 system to the time-coded track.
As with all new events, it was a huge learning curve. The main physical challenges of the actual get in were the access and — probably unsurprisingly — the weather.
The process commenced on the Tuesday, complete with Force Nine gales and winds gusting so hard that they blew people over. This was overlapped and followed by torrential and driving rain, which cleared up for the end of the week, only for the skies to open again on show day!
This was a complete rude awakening for me. I’d been working in hot countries for the previous month, so I had the wrong clothes, a predicament that necessitated a dash to the local sports shop for walking socks and a long jacket, and to the saddler to purchase what must have been the poshest wellies in Tipperary!
The uneven terrain, and the fact that the Castle is on a steep hill accessed only by a corkscrewing slip road meant they had to decant the contents of two 45ft trailers of kit and cross-load into smaller vehicles for reaching the top.
The Rock of Cashel has national heritage status, so naturally it had to be respected and any impact minimised as much as possible. It also has a graveyard on consecrated ground, adding to the pressure of being very diligent and thoughtful when rigging the kit. This also had practical consequences, such no stakes being able to be driven into the ground or no graves covered. This made things like finding projection positions more galvanizing, but naturally, nothing was impossible!
Luckily, the irascible weather didn’t deter an enthusiastic crowd of onlookers, and about an hour before the show kicked off their determination and spirit was rewarded as the skies cleared and the rain held off long enough for the show to run.
The show was hailed as a massive success, and all the signs are set for the Rock of Cashel to again host next year’s primary St. Patrick’s public celebrations. Peter Canning commented: “It was a bold move breaking with the tradition of staging a fireworks show in Dublin this year, and I think everyone has realised the great potential of the site. Hopefully we can all build on this for next year.”