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Minister Deenihan launches expanded Westport Arts Festival

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan TD.
OPENING Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan TD.

Minister Deenihan launches expanded Westport Arts Festival

Áine Ryan

THE ARTISTS of the Great Western Greenway provided a panoramic backdrop to the official opening of the expanded Westport Arts Festival by Minister Jimmy Deenihan last night. And naturally the minister alluded to the lyrical praise of 19th century writer William Makepeace Thackeray, who was charmed by the town. Quoting from Thackeray’s ‘The Irish Sketchbook’, he said: “It forms an event in one’s life to have seen this place, so beautiful it is, and so unlike all other beauties that I know of.”
Minister Deenihan continued: “But if nature has done much for Westport, we ought to be thankful to the people of Westport, who have done a great deal too. Not least, in establishing the Westport Arts Festival. Since 1976 this festival has had a far-reaching and positive impact on the local community. With a committee made up entirely of volunteers, this 14-day multi-disciplinary arts festival takes over Westport town and transforms it into a creative arena.” 
Among the oldest such festivals in the country – now in its 37th year – this year’s jamboree runs for over two weeks and offers a colourful potpourri of visual arts, street performances, theatre, music and cinema.
‘To Hell or To Connaught’ takes on a whole new meaning as heavy metal and punk bands haunt the historic buildings in the grounds of Westport House while on the other side of the harbour, thatched pub The Sheebeen hosts a series of music sessions featuring, among others, new sensation Little Xs for Eyes and upcoming Limerick band Senakah.
The Custom House Studios is hosting a 30-year retrospective of work by acclaimed artist Dermot Seymour. The exhibition is provides a unique opportunity to view paintings from private collections around the country. Other exhibitions include the Tory Island Artists and a group show by the Achill Artists Group.
Beer Belly, a six-piece band from Slovenia, will interpret traditional Irish jigs and reels in the appropriate surrounds of Matt Molloy’s Bar, while local troupe St Patrick’s Drama Group return to the stage with farcical comedy, ‘Drinking Habits’.
The hallowed ambience of Holy Trinity Church is set to create a special atmosphere when Westport Children’s Choir, under the direction of Eriko Hopkinson, performs a wide a range of secular songs, including a South African freedom song. Julie Feeney also performs in the church ahead of the release of her third album.
Speaking to The Mayo News last night, first-time festival chairman Peter Hayden said the wonderful voluntary effort and the support of local businesses underpinned the continued success and expansion of the festival.
“We are delighted to offer such a packed schedule this year and hope to continue the momentum created over the last few festivals. While we usually have a good focus on music and the visual arts, we added to our comedy line-up this year with such acclaimed comedians as Barry Murphy and David McSavage. After all, everyone needs a laugh at the moment,” Peter Hayden said.

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