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Festival Thru The Lens!
By Chris Walsh
Aug 18, 2005, 14:38

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Four years ago when I arrived in Castlebar, little did I know how many wonderful people I would meet, work with and befriend?


This article is written as a tribute to all the people I have met (& am yet to meet) on life’s wonderful journey – thank you.


When I was first asked to come to the Killala Festival 2003 and “get a few shots of the next few days” I had no idea what would come of it! After all, to me I was just “the computer man” and “he’s got one of them digital cameras”!


I didn’t arrive in Killala until Friday afternoon – I couldn’t get there any sooner and so I missed Thursday night’s Treasure Hunt and the Art Workshop, but I’m told both were great successes.


Once I unpacked the car, and got myself installed, it was up to the Pastoral Centre to add some more additional images to the Photographic Exhibition.


Over the passed few year’s it has become a fantastic, diverse archive of the life & times of Killala, its history, people, and in a strange way, its future!  It’s less than a year ago since Killala’s future was under threat from the dangers of Asbestos Treatment – with many photos capturing & sharing the historic and victorious battle between the people of Killala (& the North West) and dirty industry! At the other end of the spectrum, just a few weeks ago, platinum album selling Declan O’Rourke played a sell out gig in St. Patrick’s Church, courtesy of Mayo County Council’s Summer Music Series 2005.  


Declan O’Rourke playing live in St. Patrick’s Catholic Church 21st July 2005


After an hour or so the Photo Exhibition was complete, so I headed up to Cillalaithe House, the venue for Friday’s guest speaker, the voice of G.A.A., Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh.


I forgot to mention, when I spend the few days at the festival, I don’t just take photos! Being the helpful fella that I am, I also answer to the call of “can you put that there”, “let’s just do this quickly”, “would you go and collect so and so” and any other requests of help that are thrown my way!


The people who organise this festival weekend work their socks off throughout, but like any other organised event it takes a lot of hands on effort to make it a success & I was delighted to be a part of this!


Suddenly the shout goes up “Micheál’ has arrived – let’s go meet him” and Steve “Killala” Dunford shoves me out the door and we head for the “Golden Acres”, where our auspicious guest is having dinner before his reading.


As we pulled back the doors leading to the restaurant, Micheál and his daughter Nuala were browsing the menu. The location of the table meant no one else in the restaurant knew they were there – that soon changed as they greeted us! As soon as the great man began to speak, his unique Kerry tone filled the room, and I saw sixteen pairs of ears prick up, and watched a Mexican wave of recognition travel through the faces of fellow diners. For me that was one of many magic moments of my weekend in Killala!


After 15 minutes with Micheál & Nuala, their dinner was served and Steve & I returned to Cillalaithe House. In the half hour we were away, the “Taste of Killala” reception had been readied (locally smoked salmon and a choice of wines), and the evenings guests began to arrive.


To try and describe the magical atmosphere over the next hour and a half that Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh spoke and read for, would take about a week! From the moment he stepped into Cillalaithe House his presence held us in awe. Whatever you may have heard or read about him, multiply it by ten and then some – his knowledge, wit and unique personality are simply legendary!


Hats off to you Nuala, no wonder you were happy to drive down from and back up to Dublin for “a spin with Dad” – thank you both for making a memory!


Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, the voice of G.A.A, reads from his autobiography From Dun Sion to Croke Park.


Saturday, the first full festival day. 20 minutes from the alarm call & I was out the door, driving up the Quay Road, heading for the Killala FC pitch for the start of the day's first event, the Children's Fun/Sports Morning. Being an outdoor event, the weather was crucial & although overcast, it was dry!


I grabbed a few shots of the first few races and was gone again by 10:20 a.m. – this is one of many “back & over” festival events!


I arrived at the Round Tower just in time to meet Jimmy Gilvarry (local historian), who was leading the Archaeological/Historical Trip of Moyne Abbey & Mullaghfarry. It’s at time like this I wish I could split myself in two – if only I could have continued to photograph the festival and jump on the bus with Jimmy and his party!


Jimmy Gilvarry’s Archaeological/Historical Trip of Moyne Abbey & Mullaghfarry, at The Round Tower before their departure.


By now it was 10:40 a.m., I walked down to the Ball Alley where Aidan Murray & Laura Burke were hosting an all day Art Workshop. I knew this was going to be something special! Aidan & Laura are both Urban Artists and they had planned to design & create a massive 56 foot x 4 foot Graffiti Art mural using ideas from the children attending the workshop.

As I crept through the entrance into the ball alley court, Aidan & Laura were busy setting out 8 sheets of plywood along one wall. I spent a few minutes chatting with them as they kept working. It was going to be a while before the artwork would begin to take shape and anyway Aidan had the same need for some sugar as I had for caffeine, so I went and got some coffee!


When I returned, more children had arrived at the ball alley, so I left the coffee with Aidan, quoted the Mayor of California by saying “I’ll be back” and made my way back to the sports morning, sipping coffee as I walked.


It was now 11:15 a.m. and the pitch was alive with little people running forwards, backwards and everyway – the morning was in full swing! It was great to see so many children (a good few Mum’s & Dad’s also) taking part – sport/physical activity is such great fun.


I spent the next 40 minutes or so grabbing shot after shot of the activities including a new slant on an old theme – the Spud & Spoon race!


Get Set!


Wall of Fame!


It was getting near 12:00 p.m. and time to go back to the Pastoral Centre, where Sinéad McCool was giving a historical talk in advance of the opening of the Photographic Exhibition. On the way there I peeked in on the Art Workshop – it was a hive of activity!


My timing was perfect, Jimmy’s Archaeological/Historical Trip was complete, and the bus pulled up the Pastoral Centre. Its passengers disembarked and joined the other parties who were waiting in anticipation of Sinéad’s arrival and the commencement of her talk. Our guest speaker arrived at 12:15 pm and after being welcomed to Killala by a festival committee member, I took a couple of photos and headed back to the Ball Alley.


Steve Dunford & Sinéad McCoole,


I spent about half an hour at the Art Workshop – it was fantastic to see so many children drawing and sketching their designs for the mural – by now it had a title “Spooky Island” and was about to become a reality! Watching their little faces as they described and drew their visions of the monsters that lived on Spooky Island was another magic moment of my weekend in Killala!


What’s that guy over there doing?

My stomach reminded me loudly, that at some point soon I must grab some food; I was only one third through the day and had a lot of mileage to do yet!


I turned right as I exited the ball alley and headed back to the town, when Steve Dunford & Eddie Lenihan met me coming from the opposite direction. All I can say is Eddie Lenihan is definitely a magical guy – Steve introduced me to Eddie with the words, “This is Eddie, grab a photo and the three of us can go and get some lunch” – yep Eddie, you definitely have something magic about you!


Eddie Lenihan & Steve Dunford


Over the next hour I enjoyed a beautiful lunch (fresh local plaice) in The Village Inn with Eddie & Steve. What can I say – sharing a lunch with Eddie Lenihan was an honour, not to repeat myself but whatever you may have heard or read about him, multiply it by ten and then some!


We left Eddie to prepare himself for his audience; it was about 2:30 p.m. and I headed back to the ball alley to capture a bit more progress – the mural was really taking shape.


Graffiti Art for all ages!


My watch beeped for 3:00 p.m., time for the fancy dress parade which was to assemble outside the Garda Barracks, opposite the Ball Alley.


As I stepped out into the street I was greeted by Willy Wonka and a couple of  Oompa Loompa’s!  As I walked nearer the barracks I was surrounded by The Space Shuttle Crew, The Incredibles, Princesses, Knights of Old, Famous Footballers etc. you name it, they were there!


Everywhere I turned there was a new picture to be taken! Just as I was focusing on a mid range distance shot of a Power Ranger, my viewfinder was filled with the sight of two lunatics coming at me full throttle aboard a pair of Tonka Toys! The Fanzini Brothers from that well known Italian town of Tralee had arrived, complete with their miniature bikes!


The Fancy Dress parade plus the Fanzini Brothers headed through the town – what a colourful sight!


As the parade finished the children headed for Eddie Lenihan’s Story Time show – he was our Fancy Dress judge and after choosing the winner, enthralled a captive audience for the next 2 hours with stories of magic, leprechauns, fairies and the like. Once again I wished I could be in two places at one time – I wanted to stay and hear all of Eddies stories, but I knew the Spooky Island mural would soon be completed and I wanted to capture the final spray of paint – the artists(s) signature!


Oompa Loompa!


The Fanzini Brothers


Colourful Killala!


Spooky Island


I had an hour before the Children’s Busking Competition but I had to download the photos from my camera in order to capture it. I hopped into the car drove back to my weekend digs. I had a quick change of clothes, more coffee and drove back into town just in time for the Children’s Street Busking Competition.


Walking through the town, passing the Round Tower, watching & listening to upwards of 30 children playing a range of instruments that included, whistles, flutes, accordions, bodhrans and even an electric guitar is awesome!


The town was alive with Jigs, Reels and Greenday! Where would you get it?


This is the heart of Killala Festival – it never fails to amaze me, how much effort is put into organising such a diverse and family orientated programme!


The Fanzini Brothers judged the show and after some serious deliberation (The Fanzini’s, serious?) and presented the Alan Donnelly shield to the winners.


As soon as they had made their presentation, the Fanzini Brothers started their mad antics again, with some amazing stunts and tricks. I managed to catch a few minutes of their hilarity before I got a tap on the shoulder – it was Steve Dunford again, “Nell McCafferty has arrived, let’s go meet her”.


Three Whistles!


Watch Out The Edge!


As we got to Nell, she was just finishing dinner, so we sat and talked for 15 minutes or so, and then we drove up to Cillalaithe House, the venue. We had loads of time so our guest speaker was able to relax while the guests arrived and enjoyed the “Taste of Killala” reception before taking their seats in anticipation of the one and only Nell!


For the next hour and a half Nell brought her audience for a ride on an emotional rollercoaster! Tears, laughter, anger, sadness, she brought them everywhere until finally after a one last loop the loop she applied the brake!


All I can say is wow – by the time people had realised what had hit them, our speaker had done two laps of the car park, finished her second cigarette and was standing at the front door, waiting to sign books!


Richard Coggins from Coggins Construction, the main Festival Sponsor, with Nell McCafferty.

As Cillalaithe House emptied we took away the chairs and replaced the furniture back to its original positions. Once again, I was given a job – taking Nell to the Céilí! I’d love to tell you what was said as we drove down to the town, but all I could think of was, what if she wants to dance, which of my two left feet will I lead with?


For the next few hours the streets of Killala were filled with the sounds of The Bofield Céilí Band, laughter, chat and song!  The Fanzini Brothers made a final appearance & entertained the crowds with feats of juggling, fire eating, comedy & fun. As their finale they performed their amazing Ring of Fire routine for the first time ever.


After a long day, I met with an old friend, a fella by the name of Arthur Guinness and shared a creamy pint of plain, before heading for bed!


The Fanzini Brothers Ring of Fire.


Sunday the second full festival day, was once again an early start – especially as it was 2:30 a.m. before I finally got to bed!


By 10:10 a.m. I was in St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, taking a photo of our guest harpist Mareese O’Hora. Beautiful music in a beautiful church – what more can I say!


By 10:20 a.m. I was in St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, up in “the gods” taking photos of the Rejoice Gospel Choir.


If you have never heard this choir sing, you haven’t lived! Their fantastic range of voices and spiritually uplifting music & song should be on everyone’s breakfast menu at least once in their life!


Mass finished at 11:45 a.m. & I headed for the pier, to see if there was anything I could do to help? Everyone was so organised I just started taking shots of everyone working together to get the pier set up!


Now was also my chance to grab a coffee and download more photos off the camera. I drove back to the house and had a half hour of caffeine, nicotine and file transfers – bliss!


Needless to say I was back on the pier just in time for the start of Family Day – I’ll let the pictures tell the story.


I can do it!


The Roc A Fellas.


A Happy Crowd.


And they’re off!


Killala Coastguard display.




After 4 hours on the pier, the crowd (some 2000, including people from, Austria, Japan, UK, Spain, USA, & Germany) dispersed; the pier was tidied - again another well organised team effort, I went back to the house and grabbed a bowl of pasta for sustenance.


By 7:00 p.m. I was inside St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral. The sound and lighting guys (Ray McAndrew, “Dan the Tan”, Marie and Paul) were getting ready for the festivals Grand Final Concert, featuring; Brian Leyden & Steve Wickham followed by the Traditional Group Oran (Jerry Mulvihill, Mary Staunton & Alec Finn).


What can I tell you about the setting, this is an amazing church & deserves a visit anytime of the year! I sat through the sound check and just generally had a ball while the church was transformed into a similar set to Phillip Kings, Songs From a Room – class or what!  Just as I was getting relaxed a familiar voice asked me to “go take a few photos of the wine reception up at the Round Tower”.


As soon as I got out of the door, I was met by what seemed like a thousand voices all saying the same thing – “I know it’s sold out but is there anyway you can squeeze us in”?  I knew this was a popular gig, but wow this was like something off the telly!


In my best official sounding voice I tried to assure people that if there was any possibility, they would surely get in, and why not enjoy a glass of wine while they were waiting?


Rather the let me be lynched by the crowd, the festival organisers managed to find a place for everyone and bang on time the concert started. Any description of mine could never do justice to the next hour and a half.


Brian & Steve opened with their fantastic; Stories from the Home Place: a richly rewarding celebration of Irish life. Heartfelt, moving and funny in equal measures, Brian’s words are superbly complimented by Steve’s music and audiences are guaranteed to enjoy this imaginative pairing.


Brian Leyden & Steve Wickham.


After a brief interval, Jerry, Mary & Alec took the spotlight and blew the audience away with a wonderful mix of traditional music & song. The sound in the cathedral was superb and the combination of Brian & Steve followed by Oran completed a true “once in a lifetime experience”!


The one & only Oran.

It was now 10:20 p.m., just the firework display left and Killala Festival 2005 was coming to a close. I stayed with the guys and helped take the lighting/sound equipment apart. As I watched the superb fireworks from the Sacristy door I felt on sad it had to end but on top of the world for seeing the Killala Festival through the lens of my trusty friend, my camera!


The church was clear and back as it was & I had a longstanding appointment with my old friend Arthur Guinness, so I headed down town passing the now floodlit Round Tower on my way to Gilvarry’s for a few well earned pints of plain.


Sitting in the pub in that amazing atmosphere was yet another magic moment of my weekend in Killala!


Realising I had taken 700 photos over the last couple of days and helped to record Killala Festival 2005 was a great feeling!


Who knows maybe next year I’ll take your photograph at Killala Festival 2006!


© Copyright 2006 by the author(s)/photographer(s) and

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