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Stuck in coronavirus limbo


HAPPY BIRTHDAY NEWPORT Newport 300 chairman Cormac Kelly raises the Newport 300 flag just before 3pm last Thursday. Extensive plans to celebrate the town’s birthday are on hold for now.

Organisers of events throughout Mayo this summer are faced with an unwelcome dilemma

Anton McNulty

At three o’clock on Thursday afternoon last, the bells of St Patrick’s Church in Newport rang out across the town. The chimes marked the anniversary of the day that Captain John Pratt leased land from the Medlicott family – April 4, 1720 – thereby establishing the west Mayo town as we know it today.
The ringing of the bells was also meant to launch a year of festivities to celebrate Newport’s 300th year, starting with a rendition of Handel’s Messiah in St Patrick’s Church on Sunday and an open-air concert at Newport Quay over the June Bank Holiday weekend, featuring Sharon Shannon, Mundy, Frances Black and many more stars.  
The organising committee had these and many more events planned. They had been working hard on the festivities for the last two years, to make 2020 a year that would live long in the memory of Newport people. However, thanks to Covid-19, the year will be memorable in a way that they had not hoped for.
Handel’s Messiah has been cancelled and major doubts hang over the remaining events for as long as the coronavirus remains a threat.

Watching, waiting
Despite all the uncertainty, the chairperson of the Newport 300 organising committee, Cormac Kelly, says that they have to remain positive and will not be giving up on the 300 celebrations just yet.
“When we get the go-ahead from the high powers we will start up again,” he told The Mayo News. “We haven’t cancelled anything yet. We are watching and waiting to see what happens. If we cannot have the celebrations this year we will do it next year. If the Tokyo Olympics can put it off for a year then why can’t we.”
The events planned for the summer include a street party in June followed by a regatta and the Gráinne Uaile Festival in July. There are also events planned for later in the year, including the Grace Kelly Festival and special Christmas markets.
“Some of these events will be better done in the spring and summer, so if we cannot do it this year then we will do it next year. If we can do things in the winter then we will do it in the winter. A lot of work has gone into it and we don’t want to a half job, we want to do it right if we do it.
“Everyone is very disappointed, but there are bigger things going on in the world. There will be other days. Newport has been here for 300 years here; it is not going anywhere. If we have to celebrate 301 or 305, we will do that,” he said.

The challenges facing the Newport 300 committee are mirrored right across the county as committees are faced with the dilemma of whether to call off events planned for later in the summer or organise a ‘Plan B’.
The annual Comortas Péile na Gaeltachta, which was due to take place in Leitir Mór in Connemara over the June Bank Holiday weekend, has been cancelled for 2020, while the annual Darkness into Light walk and Fleadh Cheoil Mhaigh Eo, which were due to take place in May, have been deferred to a later date.
The organisers of the immensely popular annual Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival last week announced ‘with a heavy heart’ that they had made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s festival, which was due to take place from June 5 to 7.
The annual Achill Half Marathon and 10k, which attracts hundreds of runners and visitors onto the island each year, is due to take place on July 4. Around this time of the year, the local tourism office should be busy taking bookings and filling accommodation for the event, but instead it is the local co-ordination centre for the Covid-19 community response.
Pauric Corrigan, chairperson of the Achill Half Marathon committee, explained that they are still planning on going ahead with the event on July 4, but they do have a contingency date for early September if it cannot go ahead as planned. Their actions will be governed by the advice of the Government and HSE.
Pauric says while they had planned for all sorts of eventualities, the coronavirus pandemic was certainly not something they or anyone could have foreseen.
“In reality, when people were listening to what was going on in China in the early days, the last thing in the forefront of their minds was that we could be going through the same thing in the middle of March. If everyone was honest [the thought] wasn’t there. You put it in the back of your head and thought it would not travel this far. It was not a thought in my head at all that we could possibly be faced with this situation we have now.
“We started looking at this at the end of February, and as a committee we’ve said we need to look into things a bit more. An easy option would be to cancel it, but the Achill Half Marathon has always been there to attract people into Achill and fill the B&Bs, restaurants and pubs, even if it only for a weekend,” he explained.
“That is the ethos behind it, and if we cancel it, Achill will have a lean summer.”