Saturday afternoon and across the country, votes are being counted. For weeks now, people have taken it upon themselves to define what it means ‘to be Irish’ in 2024. In a field in Dublin, Cormac Begley is sat on a vast stage playing traditional tunes on his concertina. You sense that those people would approve, less so that across the field Kurdish artist Mohammad Syfkhan is doing the same thing on his bouzouki, albeit with added beats.

But that’s the point: if Irish music is a reflection of Irish culture and society, then it’s about LGBTQ+ punks, Nigerian rappers, Middle Eastern musicians, Afrobeat, Cuban soul and much more – including the Irish tradition that they’ll tell you is so under threat. And it’s that final genre that has provided one of the most astonishing success stories of recent years, with Lankum’s third album taking the band to unprecedented heights around the world.


The (hopefully) first edition of In The Meadows is not only a significant moment on that trajectory, but an opportunity to mark both those who have been an inspiration and those they have in turn inspired. As such, it feels like an event where the term “curated” is a genuine reflection of the process and not just a handy buzz word. We’re only a week yet a world away from Forbidden Fruit at the same venue, with the omnipresent corporate branding notably absent. The site could maybe do with a bit more physical charm to match the atmosphere, but you can’t have everything.

Given the nature of the headliner’s output, unsurprisingly, this isn’t an afternoon of easygoing, sing-along sounds. From the bottom of the bill up, this is music that requires work on behalf of the audience as well as the performers. It also means that often quiet, intimate songs are fighting to be heard in a large setting. John Francis Flynn (the most obvious Lankum-related name on the bill) is going great guns with his mix of easygoing charm and intense modern take on traditional music when an extended tuning break breaks the spell; the rise in audience chatter in the tent – which would have been righteously shushed in a folk club – creating a barrier for what follows.

Rachael Lavelle finds herself in a perfect later slot on the smaller third stage, cementing her status as part of the next generation. This Is The Kit face perhaps a sterner mid-afternoon test on the main stage but seem happy with their lot, the crowd and atmosphere growing as they go. Mogwai meanwhile have no such problems, even if the daylight is not their natural habitat, presenting a career spanning set that is exquisite in every detail and reflects a band approaching their 30th anniversary in better health than ever.

At the other end of the spectrum, Black Country, New Road continue their forced reinvention with an eight song sprint – half of which are brand new, half from their Live At Bush Hall record. They’re a thrillingly complex proposition; at times sounding like a post-rock jazz band, at others as if they’re workshopping a new off Broadway musical. It ends with a joyous version of ‘Dancers’, which would have been the highlight of the day so far had it not been for the presence of Mercury Rev before them. Evidence of the smartness of how this has been programmed, their return to these shores is a celebration for all concerned and they are simply wonderful – the musical ambition that informs the whole festival coming hand in hand with great songs that, yes, you can have a good old belt-along too.

And so to our hosts. It has seemed of late that Lankum, at odds with their continued acclaim, have had the weight of the world on their shoulders, on both a global and personal level – this very weekend has seen them pull out of Primavera in Portugal. Tonight is a big deal for all concerned without doubt, and you do wonder if they can transfer their live show to this environment. The hush that descends over 10,000 people as Radie Peat’s solo vocal ushers in ‘Go Dig My Grave’ goes a long way to quelling those fears – it’s a genuinely moving moment, especially when a broad grin spreads across the singer’s face.

Having reached a stirring height on the track’s closing segment, they lose momentum a touch with the more restrained ‘Clear In The Morning’, but ‘The New York Trader’ gets things back on track. Spirits on stage are high, Ian Lynch especially at odds with the intense despair of their Choice Music Prize acceptance speech. Politics are of course evident, alongside swipes at Spotify, festivals (they’re not fans) and the ultimate West Brit, Bono.

The casual listener, of which you feel there must be a proportion, won’t find much to jig along to aside from ‘The Rocky Road To Dublin’. Introduced as a now crucial definition of ‘Irishness’ that means a “bit of drinking, bit of rioting, walking around on lots of shit roads and fighting the Brits”, it convinces those next to GP to finally stop talking loudly to each other and start shouting ‘yup’ and ‘up the RA’.

We leave them to it, but you suspect they’ll be back to their drunken conversations soon enough as the rest of the set stretches out at its own pace. Begley joins them for a ‘Master Crowley’ set that heads to dark places and they close in what seems a blink of an eye with ‘The Turn’, the inky night offering the opportunity for a crescendo of noise, lights and visuals. Lankum are festival headliners, end of story.

They encore (without bothering to actually leave the stage) with ‘The Wild Rover’, the vocal harmonies bouncing around the buildings of Dublin 8 in ghostly fashion – taking their place in the fabric of Ireland’s musical identity alongside those that have come before and those that will follow. One day, Lankum themselves will be gone, we all will, but the evolving culture that they’re a part of will remain; of that there is no fear, no matter what they might tell you.