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French alps rock to the Clew Bay beat

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MUSIC MAESTRO Des Cafferkey of the Clew Bay Pipe Band performing in the French village of Samoens. Pic: Olivier Lestien

The French Alpine village of Samoens could not get enough of the performances of Clew Bay Pipe Band

Anton McNulty

AN inaugural Celtic music festival in a French alpine village headlined by the Clew Bay Pipe Band will likely become an annual event after local inhabitants and the town mayor were ‘blown away’ by their performances.
The Criou Celt Musical and Cultural Festival took place between August 19 and 24 in the village of Samoens located in the French Alps close to the Swiss border. Organised by Westport native, Shane Cunningham, the festival featured music from the Clew Bay Pipe Band, Westport rockband, Dramacode and dancing from the Cresham Dancers.
The opening of the festival set the tone with the pipe band marching through the village and by the end of the week their performances had captured the imagination of the locals with over 1,200 attending a sold out concert to mark the end of the festival.
Speaking to The Mayo News, Shane Cunningham said that inhabitants had never seen anything like it and the town’s mayor and the local tourism committee were determined to make it an annual event.
“It was unbelievable, we could not have wished for it to be any better. The locals were blown away by it all. The place was buzzing for the week and the feedback since has been great. I have to sit down now with the tourism committee and the powers that be but it seems everyone is up for it and I’m confident it will be an annual event.
“I don’t think they [locals] knew what to expect but once the pipe band marched through the village on the Sunday they lifted the roof off the place. They played a big concert on the Sunday night and from then they had a big following during the week. I can’t thank the Clew Bay Pipe Band, Dramacode and the Cresham Dancers enough. They played nine or ten gigs over the seven days and they rocked the place.
“By the Friday there was over 1,200 at a concert and we had a VIP area set up for the Mayor and the local dignitaries. The Mayor loved it and he even gave out the keys to the village to the guys in the bands and that bodes well for next year,” Shane explained.
Having relocated to the Alps in 1999, Shane moved to the village of Samoens in 2003 which is now home for him, his wife and two children. A heritage village with a population of 2,500, Samoens can cater for 28,000 visitors who visit for skiing in the winter and hiking and rafting in the summer.

‘Magical’
Together with fellow Westport man, John Heraty, they opened an Irish bar called The Covie which they ran for 13 years before selling-up in 2016. A number of Westport people have visited Samoens to ski over the years including Peter Carney of the Clew Bay Pipe Band.
The idea of the festival had been going around in Shane’s head for a number of years and last winter he convinced Peter to bring over the pipe band to perform their Pipe Versity concert which is a fusion of piping, drumming, rock, dance, traditional and choral music.
“We knew they would never have seen anything like our Pipe Versity concert before,” Peter explained. “The idea was brewing around for a year and a half and last October we bit the bullet and decided to go for it. I thought I was being optimistic when I suggested 52 might travel but the end we had a touring party of 67.
“The first gig was by a side street and as we started to play the street started to get blocked up by people listening to us and the week kicked off from there. The Pipe Versity shows went down a treat and we were invited to play in the next village. We even played at 1,600 metres which is twice the size of the Reek at a mountain refuge. It was no joke getting all the gear up there in 4x4s but it was worth the effort. I don’t think anyone seen anything like it before. It was magical,” he said.
As a proud Covie, Shane was delighted to see so many people from home visit his adopted home for the week including his parents Michael and Lily and thanked them for all their work.
A raffle prize at the festival included a VIP trip for two to Westport thanks to The Helm Bar and Restaurant located at The Quay. Shane explained that the winner was a local of Samoens and he hopes that the festival will be the start of closer ties between Samoens and Westport.
“I have a pipe dream that the two towns will twin in the future and that would be important to me. Samoens is my home now but I’m still a Westport man at heart and if the festival brings the two communities closer together it will be a dream come true.”