Athenry Medieval Festival – Summer 1998

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‘Some enchanted evening!’ A preview of some of the forthcoming events during the Athenry Medieval Festival, ’98.

It isn’t often that one has the opportunity to spend an evening being serenaded in a medieval castle by some of the top musicians in Ireland, but the organisers of the Athenry Medieval Festival have once again lined up some incredible talent for the pre-festival events in Athenry Castle, so get ready for some unparalleled entertainment.

As Festival ’97 concert-goers will attest, the intimate setting and wonderful acoustics of the Great Hall in the Castle combine to provide a truly memorable musical experience. This year’s line-up includes Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill on August 3rd and DeDannan on August 9th . Other pre-festival events at the castle include a poetry reading and music on Tuesday,

August 11th Local group Cáirde, led by Eileen O’Donoghue and Catherine McManus are an absolute delight to listen to, and have developed a very unique offering of traditional and medieval music. The poetry reading will be presented by Pat O’Brien and will include a selection from the works of Padraic Fallon. There is a seating capacity of 100, so to book your tickets early contact Marion McDonagh or Geraldine O’Dowd.

For the sport fans, there will be Golf AM-AM at Athenry Golf Club on Friday, August 14th. Timesheet available at 091… The Christy Kelly Memorial Tournament, organised by St. Mary’s Hurling Club and featuring 7 – a – side hurling teams from 5 parishes, will take place in Kenny Park on August 16th at 12 noon, and once again promises to be a very exciting competition.

It’s hard to believe that this is the 4th Medieval Festival and the 7th Festival overall, since the Festival Committee was formed to celebrate Lady Day and its special significance for Athenry people far and near. The aim of the committee is to organise a festival that is family orientated with fun for all ages where events will cost very little and most especially that will be a reason to plan a holiday in Athenry around Lady Day. More and more children enjoy coming to join in the workshops, the games, the parade and the pageant.

Each year brings change and this year is no exception. The programme is a good mix of the familiar and the new. The Armagh Rhymers are new this year. They will perform five 20-minute shows on Saturday, August 15th and Sunday, August 16th in various locations around the town. They are mummers or strawboys and will bring us the songs and dance of olden times from Armagh.

Also joining us this year are Gael agus Gall, a living history group that specialises in authentically recreating aspects of early medieval daily life. Group members demonstrate crafts of the period such as tablet weaving, natural dyeing, weaving, hand spinning, Nalbinding, shoemaking and leather-work. All of these crafts have been carefully researched by reference to archaeological finds and reports. They also have a display of foods that were available to the people of the time.

On the military side, Gael agus Gall has a full display of early medieval weapons and armour, including archery, while the moneyer can strike replicas of the first coin used in Ireland, the silver penny of 997 AD.

The Long Bow Archers from the North have promised to join us again. They and their families come for the week and have become part of our community. Their contribution to the pageant is always spectacular. A new face this year will be our Town Crier who will roam the streets heralding forthcoming events.

The Main Events: Having won the County Galway Overall Arts Award for the 1997 Pageant, the Festival committee had a hard act to follow. Last February, the Committee met to decide what the theme of Festival 98 might be. History books were dusted off, historians consulted — all to no avail. Then a chance meeting with Cha Taylor and the conversation got around to Festival 98 and the search for a theme. Cha remembered the late Fr. Martin Coen teaching his class about the Geraldine Invasion of Athenry in 1504. The attic was searched and, sure enough, the history copy was found. The story had every-thing — a wedding, an elopement, a battle, even a hanging and so the pageant was born. Cha wrote the script, Harry Smith of Athlone is set to produce the event and once again the people of Athenry will join in to create a spectacle that will be full of adventure, drama and above all – fun.

The Festival Committee has learned a lot about managing an event of this scale — festivals don’t just happen! A lot of work involving a lot of people is needed for success. Costumes for the relevant period have to be designed and made. Workshops have to be set up, music for the Square and the Castle decided upon and booked, sponsorship sought and money collected, sporting events synchronised, sets made, publicity, programmes. The Committee couldn’t do all this work on its  own and would like to thank the people of Athenry for their continued support, whether it is giving us the loan of a truck, making a mock castle, passing on skills to a new generation of drummers, designing hats, entertaining on children’s day, providing storage space, giving professional help where needed, contributing money, stewarding … the list goes on. Thank you to everyone.

The Festival Committee hopes you enjoy Festival ’98 — may the sun shine!

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About this record

Written by Teresa Ruane

Published here 01 Mar 2023 and originally published Summer 1998

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