By Peggy Walsh
Source : Tuam Herald August 17th 1991
Revival of the Athenry Festival.
It’s never easy to run a festival.
Consequently many towns and villages around the country have held annual jamborees and shows for years, allowing them to peter out when the younger members of the population succumb to emigration.
And alas, as in all things, when enthusiasms are allowed to fade away, it is very difficult to pick them up again and inject a new impetus.
This was the dilemma in which the Athenry Women’s Group found themselves last Spring. Newly formed, they were looking around for new challenges when they hit upon the idea of reviving the Athenry festival, with a special emphasis on tomorrow, Lady Day, when the town is usually packed with pilgrims heading out to Our Lady’s Well.
There had always been a festival in the town at this time but in recent years it was allowed to fade out.
“The I.C.A. held a Fancy Dress last year, but when we decided to hold a festival, we were concentrating on holding it for one day and one day only. However, as we became more organised, things began to fall into place and lots of people started helping us and it began to get bigger and we are very happy with the way it has been progressing,” states Peggy Walsh, one of the organisers.
But surely there are obstacles to organising an annual festival, never mind one that is just being revived?
“The most difficult aspect of it is that it was our first time doing it. We learn as you go along, but to counter this, we had some great help, especially from the FCA and the Civil Defence as well as lots of sponsorship,” she added.
However, the organisation of a festival is one of those things that lots of people try to avoid, as they involve long hours and are sometimes perceived as being a thankless task.
The Group held a dance in June in order to raise some money to cover the cost of insurance for such a festival and the good response to that event was encouraging.
“At the beginning, it is difficult to coordinate everything, but as the time gets nearer, things begin to fall into place. But during Race Week, we were busy working on the brochures, so you can imagine the panic.”
Queen of Athenry
The town got into the festival fever last week when pretty : Clarice Coffey, representing The Fields of Athenry gift shop, was selected as the Queen of Athenry, an honour which involves officially opening the festival in the Square at 12.15 tomorrow afternoon.
Entertainment for the children being provided afterwards by Littlejohn Nee, one of Ireland’s most popular children’s entertainers. Known to many as the enigmatic little Charlie Chaplin figure from Dublin’s Grafton Street, he has been working in Galway for the past few years, particularly with Macnas, who themselves feature in the festival when they have their colourful street parade after Mass.
Galway poet Rita Ann Higgins gives a reading in the Old Abbey Hotel tonight (Wednesday) and what with face painting, taxidermy displays, tug o’ wars, dancing and car treasure hunts, there certainly should be a need for one of the more unusual festival items — having your blood pressure checked!
But for local priest Fr. Michael O’Malley, Sunday is a busy day too, with the celebration of the 750th Anniversary of the founding of the Dominican priory of SS. Peter and Paul, when representatives of the Dominican Order will be accompanied from Athenry Castle to the Priory by Baron Jean de Bermingham, descendant of Meiler de Bermingham who invited the Dominicans to Athenry in 1241.
This commemoration, separate from the Athenry festival, will include a Jubilee Mass, where historian Liam de Paor will provide a commentary on the historical significance of the Dominican presence in Athenry.
Professor Etienne Rynne will give a talk on the Priory ruins and the more famous tombs and tombstones within it, while a commemorative plaque will be unveiled by Baron de Bermingham to mark the anniversary.
Organising festivals is a tiring task?
“Well for the last three weeks, we have been flat out with the preparations,” says Peggy, “but ask me that when it’s over on Sunday night.”