ART / Exhibitions galore: It's not as grand as Edinburgh but the ping-pong is better. Susan Loppert reports from the Rosscarbery Weekend

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FRIDAY 13 August, and not being paraskavidekatriaphobic, or afraid of Friday 13th jinxes, off to Ireland for the ninth Rosscarbery Weekend. Each year, 20 or so assorted artists, critics and collectors descend on this small town (pop. 500), 40 miles south-west of Cork, overlooking the sea (nearest landfall the Falklands), where the art dealer Angela Flowers has an electric-blue cottage and gallery. They are accommodated at Bubbles O'Keeffe's, the Orchard, the Carbery Arms and above Mrs Collins' Electrical Footwear shop. The serious business of looking at art is interrupted by much carousing and culminates in a Grand Ping Pong Tournament.

The luggage label declares that we are flying to Ork rather than Cork, and cunning Aer Lingus has put me in row 13 - by the emergency exit. A vital part of the plane needs replacing. We sit and wait on the runway while breakfast is served.

After two hours we are transferred to another plane, as are our empty catering trolleys and crew. After take-off, the pilot thanks us for staying with them but was there a choice? It's lunchtime now, but as ours was a breakfast flight there's no more food and certainly no gin. When at last we arrive at Cork Aerphort at 1.45pm, Angela Flowers pronounces us the soberest group in the history of the event. We rush to Crawford Municipal Museum to view '40 Cork Artists' and make straight for the museum's licensed restaurant; art can wait.

That evening, there is a preview of this year's two exhibitions: luminous abstract paintings by Anthony Daley, who's 6ft 3in tall and black and beautiful, and sculptures by Dave King in the rolling fields round the cottage. Although Daley and King were both at Leeds College of Art, there is a 16-year age gap between them and their work couldn't be more different: Daley's paintings deep, luminous abstract pools of primeval colour with evocative titles like Birthing, King's large and powerful painted wooden sculptures on universal themes: Circle of Understanding is an enormous heavy cartwheel with Sisyphean associations, ringed with the words 'the circle of our understanding is a very restricted area'.

After the raising of the Flowers flag in a field where donkeys Josef (after artist Josef Herman) and Nelly graze, the pianist Maggie Jaffrey Smith, a feather in her hair, gives us a recital of Mozart, Schubert and Satie, a preview of her Edinburgh recital. The Artist Patrick Hughes wears a turquoise suit; critic William Packer sketches the scene; five- month-old Grant, son of Dexter and Karen Bailey who have flown in from Chicago, gurgles and giggles. The lavish buffet is followed by Irish cheeses - Gubbeen and Desmond. (Where else is a cheese called Desmond?)

Saturday dawns cold and wet: a grand soft day. Patrick Hughes is in a Schiaparelli pink sweater and tartan check baseball cap; Tony Daley has pink socks. I join in the spirit of things in my ART/MORE ART/MOZART sweatshirt. Our minibus careens alongside bands of red fuchsia hedges, past hills covered in mauve heather and yellow gorse and orange lilies, the glorious vulgarity of nature matched only by the violent hues of the buildings from Skibbereen to Skull - purple heightened with green, shocking pink with orange, brilliant yellow with crimson. The emerald isle has become the rainbow isle.

We visit Bantry House, Bantry Bay, whose rundown rococo charms include Aubusson and Gobelins tapestries, portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte by Ramsay in overblown gilt frames on royal blue walls, an extravagantly over-ripe scene of a fruit market by Snyders, faded Piranesi etchings, chipped Chippendale, huge brass chandeliers decorated with Spanish shields and Meissen porcelain flowers. The owner, Egerton Shelswell-White, plays the trombone with the Cork School of Music Symphony Orchestra and a portrait of him, with blazer and trombone, hangs alongside soberer portraits of his august ancestors. He takes money at the entrance, his wife in the craft shop. A sign commemorates the French Armada which came in 1796 in a vain attempt to liberate Ireland; they seem to have reappeared in 1993 in the form of hordes of French schoolchildren.

Lunch at Annie's, Ballydehob (where a sign warns that the road is Unsafe for Horse Caravans) is a feast of good things. I compliment Annie, who is seriously large, on the seafood soup. 'Yes it is good,' she says, 'Yum yum.' La patronne definitely mange ici. Since we have missed the pig and terrier racing that are part of the Rosscarbery Community Festival, we place bets on the duck race at three o'clock (is o'clock an Irish word?). The ducks turn out to be yellow plastic, and one of our party wins; he donates his prize to the Ballydehobblers.

Back to Rosscarbery, where Danny the farmer, with weathered face and synchromesh teeth, waits with cart and Dolly the horse to take us to Angela's for the exhibition's official opening by Joan Bakewell. The gallery is filled with arty glitterati, local and imported: Bakewell as glamorous offscreen as on, Tony Daley in a scarlet jacket and one spotted and one striped sock, a Charles I lookalike in white linen suit and Panama hat, a woman with snood and what appears to be Bosnian folk costume (but with a Harrods label). Margaret Jay is there, but Jeremy Irons and David Puttnam fail to show. Sixty guests sit down to melon balls, salmon and mounds of potatoes (chipped and mashed) at the Carbery Arms. Bill Packer proposes the first toast, broadcaster Natalie Wheen answers 'as a novice, if not a virgin', and management consultant Robert Heller toasts magic. A pixilated Irish ophthalmologist with a Bentley makes a mystifying speech about a chandelier. A new Anglo-Irish agreement is reached under the benevolent influence of alcohol.

Sunday dawns bright blue and beautiful. Today is the Feast of Assumption and every village church is packed. We set off early to visit ancient stone circles, 2,000-year-old Irish relations of Stonehenge; then to Therese O'Mahony's Museum of Traditional Irish culture, the smallest museum in the world, housed in a 500-year old farmhouse. Miss O'Mahony is our guide in a tiny room piled high with artefacts from the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages ingenuously mixed with a marble model of the Taj Mahal and relics of the Famine and Troubles. She is still talking as we tiptoe out to the bus. On to Castletownshend, to the 'Couples' exhibition at the Boathouse Gallery, a summer celebration of Tony and Jane O'Malley in anticipation of his 80th birthday, and of other contemporary artists living and working together in Ireland.

Thence to Cullinore pier for a boat ride to Heir Island, where John Desmond, formerly chef at the Ritz and Taillevent in Paris, has opened a restaurant in a cottage. There's a sublime set menu, including duck on a beetroot puree and a wicked chocolate mousse. We drink a Cotes de Gascogne aptly called Domaine de Joy. For us, this day is the Feast of Consumption.

Relief in the form of gentle exercise is at hand - a table-tennis table now sits in the gallery and the eliminating heats are played over a long evening laced with more food and drink. As the wimps are vanquished and the semi-finals loom, the atmosphere changes. Patrick Hughes, former champion, in shiny black cycling shorts and headband, goes down valiantly. In the final are two six-footers - Matthew Flowers and Tony Daley; Matthew has never won and tonight doesn't change the record.

Back in the village, the last night of the festival is in full swing and everyone is making whoopee at the ceilidh, everyone determinedly dancing reels and sets in the square to amplified accordian music. It's 2 am and there are queues of chipaholics at the chip stall. But by 9 am on Monday, all signs of shenanigans have gone; it's time to go home. In Ireland it's hard to tell whether life imitates art or art imitates life. Either way, I think I may have had an art attack.

(Photographs omitted)

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