31 July – 2 August, 2015
Charleville Castle, Tullamore, Co. Offaly
Castlepalooza is one of Ireland’s greatest festivals. With in and around 3000 people there, it feels like a giant house party and because the site is so small and intimate, you feel at home in its lush surroundings. All of the Irish acts that performed have a strong grá for the festival so they give it their all. This year was Castlepalooza’s 10th birthday so there was extra divilment in the air even though it bucketed rain for 60% of the weekend.
What has it got?
Camping: There is no official accessible campsite on the grounds but the campsites are roomy so you can easily pick a spot so your chair doesn’t get caught in other tents. Every other year, we’ve camped on the edge of Castle Camping so we’d have clear access but this year, we splashed out on the Boutique Camping option and, man alive, it made the experience so easy. We booked the 4-person bell tent through the website and I made sure to mention that I was in a wheelchair so the tent would be in a handy spot. So, when we arrived, we were told that our tent was the first tent in and they even put an accessible portaloo in the site. Having a bell tent meant that there was loads of room for my wheelchair as well as four people and I could just roll in and out with ease. I was really impressed with their set up as I know many other festivals don’t provide accessible portaloos in the other campsites so kudos for that. Big shout out to Helena who looked after the Boutique Camping – you did a deadly job.
Ground: The campsites were a patch muddy and bumpy but with the odd push here and there, it was an easy enough trek. At the entrance to our campsite, they had tiles down and I joked that they should extend the tile path directly to where we were camping and do you know what? They did. Imagine that. Shout out to Paul our security guard who made that happen – you are a very sound man. Everywhere else at the festival is loosely gravelled so it’s easy sailing.
Bathrooms: The accessible portaloo in our campsite was clean the whole time which was a miracle. There was one other accessible portaloo onsite and, on the first night, we discovered that it was padlocked. It took about four volunteers and 20 minutes to track down the key. By Saturday, I’d convinced the volunteers to let me keep the key so I wouldn’t have to send out a search party every time I needed to pee. Now, I can see why they thought padlocking an accessible bathroom would be a good idea because it would be kept clean and it wouldn’t be hogged by people who didn’t need it. Once I had the key, it was amazing. My own private bathroom at a festival – incredible! But if there was more than one person in a wheelchair there, it would not have worked. I can see what they were doing here but we need to work out a way to keep accessible portaloos at festivals totally accessible but clean and available to those who need them.
Helpfulness of Staff: Between Helena, Paul and the volunteers who gave me the key to my own private bathroom, the staff of Castlepalooza did a brilliant job. They listened to what I needed and actually did it. I’ve never really experienced that at an event before. Instead of hearing ‘that’s what we were told to do’ or ‘there’s nothing we can do’, they took on board what was being said. I was really impressed and knowing that they’re willing to listen means that it can only get better next year.
Why did it lose points? I docked Castlepalooza two points because there’s a few more things that they can do to improve access but from my experience this year, they are on the right track. Locking an accessible portaloo isn’t a wonderful idea but I appreciate that they wanted to keep them clean. They have no specific accessible camping area but they made sure that it worked for me. Castlepalooza is such a brilliant festival and it’s great that they’re listening to the specific needs of one person. Access is a learning curve for a lot of business and they took on board what I said and acted quickly on it. Hopefully by next year, at the ripe old age of 11, Castlepalooza will get 10/10 for access.