Magic happened this past weekend when 2,500 redheads descended upon Crosshaven, Cork, for the small village’s 7th annual Irish Redhead Convention. The festival, run by Crosshaven redhead Joleen Cronin, is a quirky, weekend-long celebration of fiery locks and freckles, packed with music, dancing, local food and art, and whacky competitions and prizes. And underneath the whimsical surface lies a very important message of togetherness, that instills pride and confidence in redheaded youth by celebrating the quality that sets them apart.
Convention-goers braved bouts of rain to partake in the world’s largest redheaded Ceili dance, ginger speed-dating, obstacle courses, photo shoots, craft and farmers' markets, a pub crawl, trad sessions, seminars and much more. In the Kid Zone, ginger children played carrot-tossing, ginger vs. non-ginger tug of war, three legged races and more. Everyone gathered to watch famous sheep shearer “Red Shearin” shear six sheep in record time. Each activity, of course, involved red: even the various foods used in the “Blind Tasting” game were red, like red onion, sweet potato and blood orange.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the convention was the prize ceremony, in which prizes were awarded to certain redheaded attendees: titles included best red beard, furthest traveled redhead, most freckles per square inch, best ex-redhead (for those gone grey), best redheaded couple, granny, baby and more. At the end, the King and Queen of the redheads were crowned.
This year’s Queen of the Redheads is Emma Ni Chearuil, 23, from Co. Kildare. Emma, who speaks fluent Irish, was thrilled to be crowned and became emotional during her acceptance speech in which she spoke about the importance of pride in having red hair – a nod to the fact that many children resent their rarity or may face bullying in school.
“I think being a redhead is something I had to grow into and learn to appreciate,” she said. “I love that this convention can instill that in people from a young age, from the very start, and I hope to represent that really well.”
The newly crowned King of the Redheads is Andy O’Neill, a father of three from Kilkenny, who came to the convention with his entire redheaded family for the fourth year in a row.
“It’s great to be an ambassador for an important cause,” O’Neill said in an interview with IrishCentral, referring to the Convention’s partnership with the Irish Cancer Society.
Twenty percent of the Convention’s proceeds go toward the Irish Cancer Society – together they raise awareness about skin cancer. The Redhead Convention is an important platform for the charity, as redheads with fair skin are more susceptible to skin damage, increasing the risk of skin cancer.
Eimear Cotter, the Irish Cancer Society’s Community Cancer Prevention Officer, had a tent at the Convention providing everyone with informational pamphlets, sunscreen, and bracelets that turn blue in response to UV rays.
“We’re really, really grateful for the support the Redhead Convention has given us. We’ve been with them for a number of years now,” Cotter told IrishCentral. “Irish people and redheads would be more susceptible to skin damage – even on a rainy day like today, the bracelets are a bit blue. Our message is: between April and September, everybody needs to protect their skin in the sun, especially between 11 am and 3 pm.”
People traveled from all over the world to attend the festival. Hannah, 25, traveled all the way from Melbourne, Australia for the ginger celebrations. “There aren’t many of us redheads in Australia – I love it. We stand out in a crowd and we’re pretty unique,” she told IrishCentral. “I’m on a eurotrip, but we based the whole thing around the Irish Redhead Convention. We’re headed to the Redhead festival in the Netherlands in two weeks.”
Other international attendees include Willem, 21, from Vancouver Island in Canada, who received a lot of positive attention during the festival, donning a massive red afro. Willem is also Redhead Festival hopping.
“This festival is smaller than the one in Holland, but there seems to be much more to do here,” Willem told IrishCentral. “I like being different. It’s nice to stand out,” he said about his ginger pride.
Other international attendees came from England, Germany and Belgium, as well as the United States, with people traveling from Texas, Tennessee, New York, Pennsylvania and more.
Two friends, Jana and Lourdes, from Germany and Belgium, met at the Redhead convention last year in Holland, and traveled to Cork together this year. “I don’t think there’s any other place where there’s such a feeling of being together or being a team with so many people at once,” Jana said.
“When you see someone on the street who’s also a redhead, there’s an instant connection,” Lourdes added.
Joleen Cronin, the Redhead Convention’s founder, kept a cool head during the busy festival and mingled with all of the festival goers throughout the weekend, partaking in the activities herself.
“It’s really humbling that people actually do make the journey to be a part of it,” Joleen told IrishCentral in an interview.
‘In Ireland we’re used to seeing redheads around, but you go to the States and it’s less than two percent, and it’s even less still in other countries. It’s nice that those people can come here and be in the majority.”
Joleen said that growing up in a redheaded family, she never thought much about the color of her hair, but the festival has allowed her to experience a journey of her own:
“I never really thought about it too much. But when we started the event and I realized what having red hair meant for so many people, it encouraged me to realize what having red hair meant to me,” she said.
“And then I thought, 'You know what? It is a very big part of my character, and I don’t think I would like to dye it or change it in any way.' I’m proud to be who I am, and from talking to other redheads and seeing the positive effect that this event has on people who might not have had so much confidence in themselves growing up, I realized how special it is.”
The convention began as a joke – a “throwaway idea” for her brother Dennis’ birthday to only invite gingers to the party, and they’d do carrot-tossing, freckle-counting, and other redhead games. Their first event had 350 people. This weekend, far more than 2,500 redheads were in attendance.
“The event means different things for different people, and in the majority of cases it’s very positive and empowering, and that’s great,” Joleen said. Joleen’s family’s pub, Cronin’s, in the heart of Crosshaven, served as a hub for the attendees throughout the Convention.
In addition to bringing tourism to beautiful county Cork, the Convention allows local companies to set up tents for their jewelry, art, crafts or food, spreading their products to new audiences from all over the world. One tent was the well-known Irish T-shirt company Hairy Baby, who brought an entire exclusive line of ginger-related apparel designed specifically for the Convention.
This year’s Redhead Condition was extremely prideful – it provided redheaded children with their own special day dedicated to their common uniqueness – something that will change many young lives by instilling confidence early.
There was a familial air at the convention – people who had only met that morning seemed to know each other for a lifetime. People came together from every corner of the world to gather at the beautiful Cork harbor to sing, dance, eat, drink and be merrily ginger.