Westival is back with a bang

Living

NEW ROLE Sarah Byrne has taken on the role of Westival manager for the 2022 festival.

Packed schedule for Westport’s popular arts and music festival

Oisín McGovern

FEW places in Ireland are better suited than Westport to hosting an arts festival as accessible, diverse, inclusive and unique as Westival.
That’s according to Westival manager Sarah Byrne, who has pulled together a festival programme with everything from live music to comedy, cabaret, circus skills and even butter knife carving.
Originally from Dublin, Sarah has called Westport home for the past two years.
Having worked in the arts for over a decade, she is better placed than most to appraise why the decades old Westival is one of the most attractive arts festivals in the entire country.
“Because we have such an eclectic audience, we are trying to bridge between people who are coming up from other parts of the country; young, old, people who like more traditional arts, people who like progressive arts,” Sarah tells The Mayo News last week.
“There’s a real mix of things. If you’re open minded you can get an incredibly diverse programme for yourself, as opposed to it being the same kind of stuff. We’ve really tried to make sure we were providing a lot of different types of genres and styles and options for people.”
Sarah is not exaggerating.
There are more than 50 different events and attractions across 17 venues for this year’s Westival, which kicks off on October 26, after a three-year pandemic-imposed live absence.
Locals will be familiar with acts like the Westport Town Band, as well as viral Mayo-based cellist Patrick Dexter.
Also gracing the stage in Matt Molloy’s Yard Bar on Saturday, October 29, is Patrick O’Laghaoire, better known by his stage name of ‘I Have A Tribe’.
Described by The Irish Times as one of Ireland’s ‘most exceptional musicians’, Patrick has also made Westport his home in recent times.
Renowned for improvised set lists and often changing arrangements, the Westival brochure describes his music as ‘a mixture of something very deep and honest with something very generous and playful. There is within his songs a vibration with the potential to unfold itself around any hour of the day’.

Incredible theatre
The highly critically acclaimed ‘A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings’ will be staged for three nights in Town Hall Theatre, a play Sarah describes as ‘the jewel in our festival in terms of the Town Hall’ and ‘an incredible piece of theatre’.
As well as other headline acts like HousePlants; electronic music star Elaine Mai and London-based ‘neo cabaret’ act Bourgeois & Maurice, Westival will showcase a new performance collective known as ‘Testing Waters’.
Supported by the Night Time Economy Support scheme, Testing Waters aims to give people an alternative to going to the pub for live entertainment.
“What we’re trying is to do things differently, we’re putting on gigs in a space that isn’t doing many gigs,” she says.
The idea for the event came from Sarah Byrne’s work with the Mariner Hotel, which has hosted events from Mayo Pride.
It was this that began the notion of hosting live music in the hotel’s function room – which has a big boat in it, hence the name ‘Testing Waters’.
Since September this performance collective has hosted performances from acts like Sarah Byrne herself, I Have A Tribe, Patrick Dexter, Michael Gallen, Graham Sweeney, Sinéad Walsh, Shane Clifford, Fiona Frawley, Ben Verth, Shawn Uyosa, as well as some drag cabaret.
That particular gig, Sarah recalls, was ‘one of those gigs where something magic happens on stage’.
On Thursday, October 29, it will play host to a comedy club with sets from comedians Damo Clark, Keego Aidan Green, Allie O’Rourke, Jess Collins and Sinéad Walsh.
There are also plans to host more events there should the gig be successful.
But whether it’s comedy, cabaret or cello music you’re into, Westival is guaranteed to have something for anyone interested in the arts.
There’s also no need to be taxied to and from venues or wade through muddy fields either, as Sarah explains.
Ideal venues
“I think what’s great about Westport is because of the size of the town like 90 percent of the venues that we’re in are all within a two-minute walk of each other. It’s so easy for someone to get around. It’s right down your doorstep so if you come up you literally move to the next one.”
The line-up for Westival is stellar, but the setting is something you can’t get anywhere else in the world.“Westport is such a beautiful part of the country,” Sarah says.
“Having this incredible programme set against the backdrop of Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick and Westport itself … it really makes for such a great weekend visit for someone.”
Impossible to disagree with that.

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Westival runs from the October 26 to 31. For more information visit the website https://westival.ie.