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Music festival bonanza in Westport

News Features
westport music festival

Getting bigger growing stronger

Shannon floods Westport with music lovers

Neill O'Neill

THE third annual Westport Music Festival came to a spectacular conclusion on Sunday night – despite the best efforts of the weather to dampen the occasion.
What began five days earlier with one of the biggest crowds ever seen on the streets of Westport has since been hailed as one of the best events since the revival of the old Street Festival in 2006.
There were 20 arrests for public order incidents between Wednesday and Sunday, a figure down 33 per cent on last year’s music festival, though once again not one of these came in the vicinity of the stage on The Fairgreen or during the festival hours.
Sharon Shannon, Mundy and Dessie O’Halloran drew a crowd of just under 22,000 to their performance on Wednesday evening, while the crowd levels dipped considerably to 7,000 on Thursday, 3,000 on Friday, 6,293 on Saturday and 14,422 on Sunday.
The Westport Music Festival is now one of the biggest free music festivals in the country, attracting massive crowds from all over the region. Apart from Sharon Shannon and Mundy, household names like Ragús, The Walls, Whitewater, Robert Mizzell and Philomena Begley entertained fans this year, from the massive state-of-the-art stage located in the Carrowbeg River.
The Ragús concert on the closing night with the fireworks display afterwards was for many the highlight of the week. The fourteen-and-a-half thousand fans at the Fairgreen were treated to a spectacular show of reels and jigs with some mind-boggling footwork from the troupe of 14 dancers.
A new part of the festival this year was the heritage day, and this also attracted large crowds despite the inclement weather conditions. For Cathaoirleach of Westport Town Council, Cllr Martin Keane, this was the centrepiece event.
“The festival was a wonderful success for the people of Westport and a much-needed boost during a relatively quiet tourist season,” he said. “For me the heritage day was the highlight. It was a new feature this year and it added so much to the atmosphere for all the people of the town. It was so nice to see all the old artefacts, cars and signs and it added so much to the entire week of music and fun.”
In a week of near-record rainfall across the country, Westport survived without a single shower for the first two nights of the festival, while the torrents of rain on Friday and Saturday night only came after the music had ended around 11pm. This was particularly pleasing for one of the main organisers, Dick Bourke.
“It was damp for heritage day but other than that we were blessed with the weather for the first couple of days, and maybe a bit lucky towards the end,” he said. “We thought the fireworks would be a disaster on Sunday but they all went off as planned. I want to thank everyone that helped out over the five days. The Gardaí and all the volunteers were just outstanding and the festival committee worked from morning to night all week long – without them there would have been no music.
“I also want to thank all our sponsors who give so generously every year and I just hope that people enjoyed the music,” he said.
Dick added that the organising committee will be back around the table by the end of this week planning for next year and hoping to build on the success of the last week, using a similar format that caters for all types of musical interests. He said that they will be looking towards the same week next year for the festival, but said they won’t know what bands might be able to play for several weeks to come. He also said they would be looking to build and expand on the heritage day for 2009.

Turning back the time of Westport’s town clock

Heritage Day
Neill O’Neill

THE heritage day which was held last Sunday as part of the five-day Westport Music Festival was hailed as such a success that it will not only be repeated next year, but expanded.
People came from all over the country to participate on the South Mall in Westport, where there was currach-making, sean nós dancing, basket-making, turf-cutting and quilt-making, to mention but a few of the many stalls on display. 
Apart from the demonstrations, workshops and exhibitions at the many stalls, there was also plenty of traditional music, vintage cars, arts and crafts, and even a revival of some old schoolyard games like hopscotch, marbles and conkers.
Cathaoirleach of Westport Town Council, Cllr Martin Keane, praised the organising committee and Gnó Mhaigh Eo for all their work and commitment in promoting culture and history in Westport.
“I haven’t enjoyed a day as much in a long time,” he said. “It really was so well run and organised and it was great to see so many families and children out and about on the street and soaking up the lovely atmosphere that the heritage artefacts and stalls created.
“I hope now that the festival committee builds on the success of this year and that the heritage day is even better and bigger next year.”

Trad music the order of the night

Sharon Shannon Gig
Neill O’Neill

ON her regular visits to Westport down through the years Sharon Shannon may well have grown accustomed to slipping unnoticed into the darkened music room of her old friend’s pub on Bridge Street to bring her accordion or fiddle dancing to life.
However, the reputation of the Clare-born musician has since spread far beyond the walls of Matt Molloy’s, and when she took to the stage at the Westport Music Festival last Wednesday, a population almost equivalent to that of Ennis – the largest town in Munster – was there to meet her.
Accompanied by Brendan Begley, and later by Mundy, a crowd of 22,000 people tapped their feet to her uplifting melodies for over two hours, as traditional music filled the air, reaching heights that may never be equalled on The Fairgreen.
As the two hours slipped quickly by, Sharon kept the crowd engaged with her friendly wit as well as her lightening-fast fingers, ably accompanied by the talent of Begley and a host of other musicians. Then, as nightfall cloaked the faithful who had gathered to hear the enchanting music, Mundy appeared on stage to perform ‘Galway Girl’ – the smash-hit and now immortal collaboration that brought he and Sharon to number one in the charts.
This signalled the end of a memorable night but with the concert coming to a close as the strobe bulbs illuminated the pulsating crowd like a lighthouse casting its glow across a stormy sea, the crowd – hungry for more –  were not disappointed when ‘Mexico’ and ‘July’ came blasting out either side of ‘Blackbird’ – one of Sharon’s signature tunes.