The Red Head Convention is a relative newcomer to Ireland’s extensive festival calendar. The first Convention was held back in 2010 and it has quickly gained a reputation as a fun, slightly mad, family friendly event.
The convention is the brain child of Cork woman Joleen Cronin. Joleen is the epitome of a vivacious red head. Her infectious laugh, mischievous sense of humour and exuberance literally zings its way down the telephone line from Crosshaven, Co. Cork. She is a fire brand of energy, excitement and good humour. The perfect patron for a festival dedicated to celebrating “all things red haired”.
She gleefully recounts how the Red Head Convention started – a joke between herself and her brother Denis. “We both have bright red hair”. ‘We were sitting in the bar, (Jolene’s family own Cronin’s pub in Crosshaven), and we were planning my brothers upcoming birthday party and I jokingly suggested that we would only invite people with red hair and it started from that one throw-away comment.’
The science behind red hair is pretty amazing. In Ireland 10% of people are red heads. However up to 50% of the Irish population may carry the gene. For a child to have red hair, both parents must carry the gene – but neither have to have red hair – then there is still a 25% chance their child will have red hair. In Scotland 13% have red hair while in England just 6% are red heads. Considering that these numbers are higher than the rest of Europe scientists have concluded that the higher rates of the red haired gene in Ireland is down to the climate. As Celtic coloring is genetically programmed to work better in our sun-starved country.
To Joleen and Denis’s astonishment the festival just, “Seemed to capture the imagination of the media and the general public. We mentioned the event to our local newspaper, The Evening Echo, and they thought it was a wonderful idea so they wrote a small feature article on the event. Following that we were contacted by Today FM and again they did a short telephone interview with us. After that we were inundated with requests for interviews and information from the national media and the general public”.
The first festival was a simple one-day event and all funds raised went to the Irish cancer society with about 300 people attending – mostly locals.
Each year the festival has grown but it really flourished last year thanks to the support the Red Head Convention received as part of The Gathering initiative, spearheaded by Failte Ireland. The festival was selected as one of The Gatherings flagship events and received major international exposure.
Joleen is fulsome in her praise of The Gathering initiative and what their support has meant for The Red Head Convention. “Our involvement with The Gathering really bought the Red Head Convention to a new level.”
‘For me both events had a great synergy. The Gathering was about celebrating our culture, our heritage and helping people to reconnect with their roots (forgive the pun). The Red Head Convention is a celebration of the unique Irish trait of having red hair. Red hair is the rarest hair colour in the world and is very much part of our heritage and identity.’
The Redhead Convention received funding as well as marketing support from The Gathering “this extra push helped us grow from a small community event into an internationally recognised festival” said Joleen.
According to Louise Tolerton of Failte Ireland, the Redhead Convention “enjoyed considerable expansion in 2013. For the first time the festival was held as a weekend event. Visitor numbers increased 150% to 2,500 and for the first time the event was marketed to an overseas audience which helped expand the visitor base. In 2013, 28% of all visitors to the festival came from overseas. Local businesses and service providers benefited significantly over the weekend including accommodation, restaurants and cafes”
This festival is all about fun and zany ways to celebrate the Irish red haired heritage. There are many weird and wonderful ginger themed events held over the weekend. Such as red-gistration, where those in procession of the requisite red hair receive a “Certificate of Genuine Foxiness”.
Competitions include Carrot Tossing, Freckle Counting, Furthest Travelled Ginger, as well as the crowning of the King and Queen of the Gingers. For those who are not natural red heads there is optional red hair dying or some really bright wigs are also available, if you are so inclined.
The festival goes out of its way to poke fun at clinches, dorky red heads, and the festival turns that on its head – literally- so rather than people ginger baiting , the gingers take control, and poke fun at themselves.
One former UCC student who attended the event said that he “never felt prouder to be ginger,” likening the feeling of being in Crosshaven to witnessing the “collective moment of emancipation of an entire hair colour”. Kenneth Gordon, of Glasheen, Cork, said that he had suffered derogatory comments and insults on the basis of his hair colour in the past, and commended organisers for “making untold progress towards challenging the status quo.” “Awakening ‘Ginger Pride’ and creating a safe haven for red-heads at events such as these sends out a clear message that discrimination against people because of their hair colour, is as unacceptable as discrimination based on race, skin colour, or religion, and has no place in modern Ireland.” “Raising money for a great cause and having a bit of craic are added bonuses,”
For Joleen the positive vibes of the Convention are an excellent bonus. “I love to see young children with red hair at the festival. They are usually beaming from ear to ear because they have red hair and their sisters and brothers don’t, and all of a sudden having red hair is the coolest thing in the world.
While to date we have not dealt with the issue of ginger abuse the festivals focus is on empowerment and sending out a really positive message.”
Behind all the fun and banter there is an important message. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to stand out from the crowd. As a matter of fact it can be better than ok. IT’S GREAT. AWESOME!
This year’s Red Head Convention will take place from the 22nd to the 24th of August 2014 in Crooshaven, Co. Cork. So be a proud ginger, natural or not, and make your way to Crosshaven this summer and paint the town RED.