Festival 95 November 1995

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Would we extend the festival to five days? Could we sustain it? Could we afford it? We weren’t really sure, but we were sure we wanted to run a community-based festival with culture and entertainment for all the family. We were very aware of a huge pool of local talent that could be incorporated into the venture.

The festival is the culmination of eight months of intensive preparation which falls into four categories:

l. Advance planning and fund-raising.

2. Creative phase.

3. Festival week.

4. Post festival work.

Advance planning began early in January. Dates, format and fund-raising were first on our agenda. As this was our third medieval venture, we recognised the need for fresh ideas and innovation. The format was discussed at length; the fair, children’s day, jousting, battle drama, music, what changes could we implement?

Could we afford fireworks? We met with the people from Theatre of Fire. Yes, we were hopeful. We also met with the local organisations to discuss what they wanted to do. Their response was good. The Drama Group would perform in the open air. St. Mary’s Hurling Club would stage an old-time hurling tournament. These were just what we needed. We also needed money urgently. One of the major factors in planning a festival is the assurance of adequate finance. This is a very time-consuming exercise. Apart from Guinness and Galway County Council or major outside sources, most of the money is raised locally.

Once the preliminaries were over the real action began. As in previous years we were kindly given premises by the Presentation Community, the Canton Hall Committee, the Mart and the Boys School.

Five young people were employed on a summer job scheme. They threw themselves wholeheartedly into the task of making all kinds of medieval paraphernalia, market stalls and a variety of siege weapons. As the workload increased, they were joined by a group of very willing volunteers. All of this work was overseen and co-ordinated by the committee aided by one or two accomplished advisers.

In the Canton Hall the Women’s Group were at fever pitch making outfits for the hurling teams, the soldiers and clansmen, the gymnasts, jousters, drummers and, indeed, anybody who needed medieval dress. Sewing machines wilted under the pressure but the women stayed the course and finally the “masses” were all dressed.

As part of our Community Arts programme, we held a series of workshops. Large numbers of youngsters were introduced to the art of paper mâché, gymnastics, face painting and drumming. These workshops were intended both as a focal point for their creative skills and energies and as a preparation for their active participation in the festival.

By July preparation reached frantic proportion. The programme had to be finalised. Some events were clashing. It was nobody’s fault. Could we compromise? The fireworks! Did they require darkness or just faded light? How would the music fit in? The fair had to be sorted, some crafts people book early, others leave it until the last minute. Would we have enough stalls? However, the programme got sorted and it went to press.

Things were hotting up. Rehearsals for jousting and the battle began. Logistics for the battle were planned in great detail. History and imaginative initiative were key ingredients in the battle plan.

Volunteers were slow at first but as the fever caught on they came out in large numbers. Those with military expertise and those who took part in “Braveheart” made a big contribution.

The final count-down was on. The committee was on red-alert. Sound, security, seating, site plan, publicity, voluntary help, work roster and a hundred other details had to be finalised. Participating

groups had to be contacted, they were all busy making their own preparations. It soon became clear that almost everybody was involved. It was a great feeling, meitheal and muintearas were winning the day.

Soon the moment had arrived and the weather was glorious. On Friday the opening parade led by the medieval town band, the official opening by Joe Healy followed by the Mamin Cajuns set the scene for the weekend. Saturday and Monday were special days for the children. Saturday’s novel pet show, face painting and magnificent puppetry were enjoyed by all. On Saturday night an enthusiastic crowd boogied to the music of Rhythm Method. Monday’s action-packed day began with a delightful Teddy Bear’s Picnic with Bobo the Clown, followed in quick succession by the children’s fun sports and a brilliant children’s play about a queen that doesn’t allow cats, holidays or onions into her kingdom: Queendom.

On Monday evening the eagerly awaited “spreading the news” was performed in the square. It was a wonderful evocation of times past. Even the weather obliged. It was performed in a thick mist which added to the atmosphere. Later a large crowd enjoyed the music of Blue Ridge County. Sunday’s Medieval Fair went with a bang from the spectacular opening parade to a magnificent jousting display. There was something for everyone: a lovely craft faire, medieval music by the Ladies of Galway, puppetry, juggling, tomfoolery by the Flying Pigs, sponge throwing by local lads, a crash rescue display by the Civil Defence and a display of military weapons by the FCA. However the highlight of the day for many was the thrilling display of old time hurling by St Mary’s Hurling Club. Night time music was by Sean Keane and his Band.

The best wine was reserved for Lady Day with a thrilling re-enactment of the Sacking of Athenry by Red Hugh O’Donnell – l597. Spectators watched enthralled as the Irish Clansmen tried every trick to overwhelm their rivals and finally give them their comeuppance. To cries of O’Donnell Abu the victory celebrations began with a truly magnificent display of fireworks. It was a remarkable end to a great festival.

However, Joe Glynn the Bengarra man had the last word as his band “Irish Mist” enthralled the crowds late into the night. The five days were justified after all!

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About this record

Written by Mary McGovern

Published here 31 Oct 2022 and originally published 1995

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