History

Athenry Festival (1991)

Source : Connacht Tribune August 2nd 1991

Ambitious Project

Athenry Women’s Group, which was formed only last February, have embarked on their most ambitious project to date….the revival of the town’s annual Festival.

For the past few months every member of the group has been ‘most feverishly involved in organising the event and the arrangements they have already made suggest that the 3-day festival which begins on August 15, will be bigger and better than ever.

Foundation of Womens’ Group

That, of course, was not the reason for the founding of the group, It was  formed by seven local women prompted by Peggy Walsh who took the project as part of a Community Development and Enterprise Programme in which she participated at U.C.G.

 There are some 300 women living in the small medieval Co Galway town, many of them young mothers. Only one organisation…the -.I.C.A..catered for them, the ten members holding evening meetings twice a month. Peggy Walsh’s project envisaged a morning meeting a week with creche facilities.

It would provide a place for women to meet, to make friends, exchange  ideas, learn new skills, share with one another. It would be a supportive group of women of mixed ages, practically setting targets which they could complete and which would not only enrich the lives of their own members, but would benefit the community in general.

Inaugural Meeting

So the seven women….Aideen Rynne, Carmel Farragher, Helen Reidy Mary McGovern, Maureen Lawless, Madelyn Brody and Peggy Walsh got working. And on Tuesday, February 19, at 10am some 35 women gathered for the inaugural meeting at the Old Abbey Hotel and were addressed by Venetia McEllin of the Headford Group.

Group Activities

Since then they have been meeting every Tuesday morning with tremendous enthusiasm. There are no officers. They start with a game or a dance, have tea, and informative talks and discussions. They share the work equally and have a minder, sometimes two, for the creche.

They have had bowling sessions in Galway, talks on colour analysis and flower arranging. They have visited ornithologist Gordon D’Arcy and completed an eight-week assertiveness course specially arranged by the Western Health Board.

Revival  of the Town’s Festival

Their biggest challenge, however, is their combined effort at reviving the town’s festival.

August 15th…0ur Lady’s Day ….had been a traditional pattern day in the town. But in recent times it has been in decline and last year wasn’t held at all. The Women’s Group called a meeting to test the interest in reviving the festival and afterwards decided to take on the responsibility.

Organisation

Three months of hard work are now behind them which included organising a fund-raising dance from which they made a whopping £1,100 to cover insurance costs for the festival. Now the arrangements are almost complete and they match anything on offer anywhere. Indeed, even before the festival commences, they have arranged an art exhibition…for Tuesday, August 13th….consisting of a selection of paintings by Galway artists arranged by the Galway Arts Officer James Harold, as well as paintings and crafts by local people. The following evening Rita Anne Higgins will give poetry readings.

Official Opening

The Festival will be officially opened by the Queen of Athenry at The Square at 12.15 p.m. and for the remainder of the day a host of interesting events have been arranged, including a performance at the Square by Little John, the traditional celebration of Mass at Our Lady’s Well at Rahard, the famous Macnas Parade, children’s Fancy dress, the Best Dressed Lady competition, tug o’war, a children’s disco and ceili dancing at The Square to the Music of the Ferrymen.

Other Events

Friday’s events include a children’s treasure hunt, funsports, a children’s disco, a relay race and a car treasure hunt, concluding with a recital by the Guinness Jazz Band.

The final day of the festival will include a Baby Show which will be Judged by Baronne Catherine de Bermingham whose husband, Baron Jean de Bermingham, will be attending the celebrations in the town marking the 750th anniversary of the founding of the Dominican Priory of SS Peter and Paul.

There will also be a camogie match, a dog show, a slow bicycle race, the soccer tournament final and a jamboree.

Special Pilgrimage

The group are also hoping to have Westrail organise a special pilgrimage on their steam train from Tuam to Our Lady’s Well for the Mass on the opening day of the festival.

Mammoth Undertaking

It’s a mammoth undertaking, but all of them have put their shoulders to the wheel and when I talked to the seven founders of the Women’s Group and other committed members like Stephanie O’Regan, Geraldine O’Dowd, Antoinette Judge, Trudy Treacy, Mary Cunniffe, Breda Kelly, Martina Bane, Maura Hardiman, Eileen Hardiman and Joy McNamara, they were looking forward with great expectations to the outcome of their labours.

Co-Operation and Goodwill

The extent of the co-operation the women have received, the amount of goodwill shown them for the work they have done, and the amount of sponsorship they have received, has made the effort worthwhile. For while none of the women stands to gain one penny from the project, there is the self-satisfaction of a job well done. All they want now is a little help from young people of the parish with stewarding….and for the Weatherman to smile benignly on them.