Athenry Medieval Festival Dec 1997

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Did you know that in 1576 Richard and John, sons of Ulick de Burgo burned St. Mary’s Church and Church Yard to the ground, destroying their mother’s grave?

This interesting snippet of history became the foundation of “Avelina’s Revenge”, the pageant performed at this year’s Festival. Back in February and March, we worked on the story. What would we need?

A model of the original St. Mary’s and Gravestone. Rats and other evil creatures. How about a sea monster? We organised a workshop for this. Great fun was had by all in its construction under the expert eye of Bernie McGonagle. Big question – how do we move him? And to where?

Again the support of so many Athenry people was there for us. Coffey Construction’s truck was made available, a meitheal was gathered to do the lifting and the monster moved through the town to its new found home.

A cast of hundreds was needed – rats, mini witches, witches, soldiers, natives, lepers, etc., etc. At this stage we realised we needed a professional Director and were lucky enough to find Rod Goodall, late of Macnas, available. Many meetings later, he wanted fifty witches’ outfits, thirty mini witches’ outfits for a start. The sewing machines were busy night and day. Workshops took place for rats’ outfits. A moon was constructed, vandalised and constructed again.

Back row – Ena O’Grady, Mary McGovern (Author) and Catherine Brady. Front Row – Ann Rabbitt, Ann Quinn and Joy McNamara

Miracle of miracles we were ready. On one of the finest nights of the year with the full moon shining on the Castle “Avelina’s Revenge” was staged in front of yet another huge audience, finishing with a spectacular display of Fireworks, which could be seen for miles around.

Athenry Medieval Festival is always centred around Lady Day. The traditional Mass at the Well begins the festivities. A fun-filled vibrant parade led by the Medieval Town Band in their new Medieval Costumes, all of which were made by the Women’s Group and friends, led Avelina in her cage, surrounded and followed by witches, rats, sea monsters and nobles to the square for the Official Opening by Mr. Brian Feeney, Captain of the All-Ireland Club Champions for ‘97.

We had music in the Square every night. Children’s Day on the Saturday was fun-filled with the Teddy Bears’ Picnic, a Quiz, Puppet Theatre, Soccer, Hurling, Camogie, Rugby – how did we find time to enjoy them all?

The Craft Fayre on Sunday was filled with interesting stalls with Puppetry, Street Theatre, Civil Defence Display and Medieval Music to pass the time in glorious sunshine. Home for a quick cuppa and back to enjoy Athenry Drama Group’s presentation of Shakespeare’s “Merrie Regiment of Women” in the Castle Keep. What a perfect setting for their award winning production.

With the kind permission of National Monuments, the Castle itself was the venue for three pre-Festival Concerts. The natural acoustics provided an ideal backdrop for Les Minstrals, The Bells of Mayo, Dordán and Mary O’Malley’s Poetry Reading.

The Fr. Browne Exhibition of photographs, sponsored by A.I.B. was also on display in the Castle during the Festival.

Joe Glynn from Bengarra and Boston played to huge crowds in the square on the Sunday night to close another memorable Festival.

Another triumph for all of us. Another proof that with the help and involvement of the whole community, a wonderful fun-filled Festival can take place around which, so many, who are far away, now arrange their holidays.

To be home for Lady Day and the Festival is becoming more important every year. Long may it continue.

Feature Photo: Ruins of the original St. Mary’s burned by the sons of Ulic Burke.

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About this record

Written by Mary McGovern

Published here 16 Feb 2023 and originally published December 1997

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