Frankie Boyle unloads his vulgar repertoire to an audience of thousands, despite the outcry
Thousands of fans of Frankie Boyle crammed into Belfast's Falls Park last night for the controversial comedian's West Belfast Festival performance - despite a storm of protest that had marred the run-up to the headline festival event.
Campaigners had called for the gig to be cancelled after the Scot's tasteless and offensive jibes at Down's Syndrome children and disabled people in the past.
But the Feile an Phobail organisers had insisted that the £25-a-ticket show must go on, despite a wave of criticism that his act was highly inappropriate for a community festival.
However, a protest by concerned parents outside the sellout Falls Park gig last night did not materialise. West Belfast SDLP councillor Tim Attwood had turned out to support them, and said he was surprised and disappointed by the no-show, but still felt that the organisers of the event had made a mistake in pressing ahead with the event.
"I understand the importance of freedom of speech, and it's important that we support that principle," he said. "But freedom of speech does not mean the freedom to abuse people who are vulnerable or disadvantaged. The distasteful jokes made by Frankie Boyle in the past are a step too far.
"This is not a commercial event - this is a community event, and it should have higher standards than those which might apply to a purely commercial operator. The Feile organisers need to reflect on that, and have a governance arrangement for the future that ensures that we do not get to this situation again."
The Frankie Boyle fans heading into the event - held in a specially erected giant festival marquee - were obviously expecting to be entertained, although some still voiced a few reservations.
But for others, the anticipation that Boyle would cause offence was the main attraction.
Fans had travelled from all over Northern Ireland to attend the show.
Pals Orrin Burns and Niall Caldwell had travelled from Ballycastle to the Belfast event.
Orrin said: "Frankie Boyle's just hilarious. It's because it's taboo, really. Seeing him live is not the same as seeing him on Mock The Week, trying to cater for everyone's comedy tastes.
"You just have to try not to get offended, develop a bit of a thick skin."
"We enjoy controversy," said pal Niall. "Free speech for everyone - or free speech for no one."
Scotswoman Marie O'Brien, who lives in Rostrevor, added: "For me it's because he's funny and he's Scottish.
"He makes jokes about everybody - autistic people, Down's Syndrome people, the colour of your skin, your religion."
Fintan Hanna, also from Rostrevor, was also looking forward to Mr Boyle's show, even though his own sister has Down's Syndrome.
"He's a really intelligent comedian as well," he said.
"I always find his stuff very funny. You'll get 200 jokes, and 190 of them you'll laugh at. He's an equal opportunity offender."
American student Ilia Widman from New York said she had been handed free tickets to the £25 event. She said she was interested in the kind of insight Boyle's performance could offer into culture on this side of the Atlantic. "I'm going to take it with a grain of salt. I'll probably hate him in the end. I hope it will give an insight into the social and political culture."
Conall O Corra from Belfast said while he liked Boyle's politics, he was not so sure about making fun of people with disabilities.
"I like Frankie Boyle's stance on the Israel/Palestine issue, and he has family in Ireland, so I'm going to go in and give him a wee chance tonight.
"If I had a family member with Down's Syndrome I probably wouldn't enjoy him tonight."
Lisburn man Michael Kearney said he enjoyed Boyle's comedy.
"I think a lot of the things he said are without malice. He doesn't intend to be insulting."
And he shared councillor Attwood's view that perhaps Mr Boyle was not the ideal choice for a community-based festival.
"He may not perhaps have been the best choice for an all-community event, but he's certainly sold out."
Hayley Keery, from Lisburn, summed up the mood of many. "He makes a few jokes that I would sort of cringe at - some of the jokes he makes about disabled people I just think are so bad. But you just have to ignore that. Some people find it funny, and some don't."