Creative fires to blaze brightly



Ciara Moynihan

The people behind Westival – Westport’s music and arts festival – have released details of this year’s programme, and it’s packed with an exciting line up of exhibitions, interactive workshops, theatre, intimate music concerts, spoken-word events, cinema and exhilarating family outdoor entertainment. The festival, which runs from October 21 to 26, will naturally  follow the advice and supervision of the Government’s Covid-19 and local Gardai guidelines.
“We are delighted to hold a festival in Westport this year despite the current Covid-19 situation,” new Westival arts director Sean O’Hare told The Mayo News.
“In the spring of 2020, during the lockdown,  the board and staff team made the decision to hold the festival with the theme of ‘Keeping The Home Fires Burning’. This year’s festival is very much about celebrating the immense talent there is in Westport and across the west of Ireland.
“We understand this has been a difficult time for many within the community and we felt it was important to bring a touch of creative joy to the town in October. We also recognise that for some people, they may still be cocooning and therefore if you cannot get to Westival then Westival will come to you.
“We will have virtual online experiences for those unfortunate enough not to be able to attend our many events. The programming is still evolving due to the current public health changes and we are determined that no matter what happens, Westival will echo the resilience of the local community and produce an arts festival in 2020 that Westport will be proud of.”
The festival will have numerous exhibitions showcasing the work of many artists residing in the area, and much of this work will be on show in the Westival Gallery on Castlebar Street. Mayo-based artist Chris Doris will be producing work that will be exhibited in the homes of local people, and organisers are keen for those interested, to register on the Westival website.
Orla Casey, another Westport artist is creating an interactive audio-visual walking trail which is inspired by the stories behind the faces of the Westport community and their collective experience in dealing with and coming through the coronavirus pandemic. Exhibits from the Mayo County Council Art Collection will be on show in the Westport Town Hall, and the there’ll also be more visual art to enjoy at the Custom House Gallery at the Quay.
There will be a screening and online showing of ‘Ireland’s Call’, featuring John Connors, which focuses on the lives and family histories of three young men as they grow up in Coolock on Dublin’s northside.
Westival is also delighted to announce several new partnerships with groups from Westport and across the island of Ireland. They have been working with Westport Jazz which has resulted in the renowned Jazz vocalist Christine Tobin performing at Westport Town Hall. A major partnership was also announced with Belfast International Arts Festival and this new exiting development has resulted in seven spoken-word online events featuring Irish and international writers, broadcasters and comedians, such as Kevin Maxwell, Nazir Afzal, Stuart Maconie, Robert Lee, Helen Lewis, Jenni Murray, Patrick Freyne, Elaine Feeney and Daisey Johnson. This partnership also includes various local bookshops like Tertulia and West Coast Rare Books, where the writers involved in this year’s spoken-word programme will have their work on sale.
Arts and photography workshops will highlight the educational themes that lie at the heart of Westival programming. Family entertainment is also a key part of the programme with events being held across the town again with limited availability due to the current Covid situation. Achill-based group Circus 250 will be presenting their award-winning show ‘Strong Women Science Circus’, which is sure to thrill families.
This year’s music section of the programme focuses on the depth of talent in the West of Ireland with Graham Sweeney performing a unique gig in the Lighthouse on Claire Island. Dee Armstrong of Kíla fame will also be performing, and Westival is delighted to announce she will be joined on stage by her fellow band member Ronan O’Snodaigh.
The festival team were keen to highlight that Westival would not be the same without the brilliant Clew Bay Folk Club taking part and this year there will be an online virtual folk club experience. The music programme is still progressing, and the team hope to have a few more surprises lined up by the week of the festival.
The new arts director Sean O’Hare was keen to highlight the work of the team and the board in bringing this programme together during these tough times.
“I think it is amazing how everyone in Westival, from the former artistic director Conor Wilson and the staff team to the visionary members of the board, have all come together and delivered a programme that will hopefully be enjoyed by the people of Westport. These really are exceptional times and exceptional people have stood out and delivered for the community this past six months, and I would like to think this festival is a celebration of their endeavours.
“Of course, none of this would be possible, were it not for our supporters and therefore I would like to thank the Arts Council, Mayo County Council, Leader, the many businesses across Mayo, our patrons and supporters and the many others who have supported Westival and helped us produce this year’s festival.
“So let’s follow the Covid-19 guidelines and celebrate Westival 2020 and keep her lit.”