A feast of music for 46 years
ARKLOW MUSIC FESTIVAL CELEBRATES ITS 46TH YEAR IN 2015. COMMITTEE PRO JIMMY RUSSELL SHARES HIS MEMORIES OF THIS SUCCESSFUL EVENT
ARKLOW Music Festival is a labour of love for local man Jimmy Russell and the almost 50-strong army of volunteers it takes to ensure that the annual event runs smoothly.
The large-scale musical extravaganza is now in its 46th year and for the past decade Jimmy has been at the helm of the promotional side of things.
‘I have been involved for about 15 years now. I was first roped in by my fellow St Patrick’s Day Parade committee members Peter Kearns and Denis Naughter to help out for a weekend and I’m still here. About ten years ago I took over as PRO following in the footsteps of the late Tom Clandillon,’ Jimmy explained.
Arklow Music Festival is the second largest festival of its kind in Ireland and has been drawing music enthusiasts to the Garden County for more than four decades.
‘ The festival has always been huge. It is a highlight in the calendar for the town and there is huge investment in it from the community. Everyone including the local schools put in massive effort to make sure it runs so well. It has come a very long way from humble beginnings when it was initially set up at St Peter’s Place by the late Paddy Wadden and Mai Kavanagh.’
In those early days the festival took place in the Ormonde Hall which was a hive of activity right in the town centre. When the hall came into disrepair the committee had to seek out a new venue. The Sisters of Mercy were very supportive and offered St Mary’s College Hall and the Select Vestry offered the Marlborough Hall on St Mary’s Road. Today, along with those two venues, competitions also take place in Arus Lorcáin, Bridgewater Centre and the Arklow Bay Hotel, which came on board to cater for the classes which require that bit more space. It is the only festival that really takes place across the whole town because venues are on both sides of the river.’
The festival which has over 150 separate classes welcomes competitors from the age of four up to adults for solo, duet and group categories. Poetry, classical, traditional music, song, action song, verse speaking, monologues and more combine to produce a vast and varied array of artforms which are celebrated over an eight day period.
‘ There is a huge amount of classes so there is something for everyone,’ Jimmy explained. ‘I would say that taking part does wonders for a child’s confidence as they would be performing in front of a couple of hundred people at any time,’ he added.
The primary and secondary schools around Arklow and County Wicklow are very supportive and spend an enormous amount of time rehearsing and preparing for the festival with the children to make sure they are ready. It is second in size only to the national Fleadh Cheoil and we welcome on average 7,000 competitors from all over the country so there is big interest in it.’
The festival is one of the few events to have stuck to its core theme and purpose over the years. It has come through two recessions and is as strong as ever despite various changes in society.
‘Over the years we have had some big names compete regularly including the famous tenor Anthony Kearns.
‘We get over 10,000 day visitors during the eight days so it does offer a certain boost to the town, It is great to see such buzz and excitement in Arklow which has had its fair share of difficulties. It makes all the work worthwhile. Without the local community there is no way we could keep it going,’ Jimmy said.
It costs in the region of €30,000 to stage the event, some of which comes from sponsorship from Bridgewater Centre and Elavon Financial Services and is supplemented with a grant from Arklow Municipal District.
‘Without our sponsors it couldn’t be done because adjudication fees alone cost between €15,000 and €18,000. Along with admission on the door the sponsorship keeps the show on the road and covers costs including insurance and printing.’
Jimmy and the whole team involved keep coming back year after year because they love it and are proud to be a part of this truly traditional Arklow event.
‘I love it and seeing the joy and excitement it brings to everyone makes it worth all the hours put in. The whole team is voluntary and so many of them give up their own holidays to be on hand during the week.’
Aside from his fellow volunteers Jimmy has good backing from his dear wife Tina who he describes as ‘ long-suffering’ due to his various community commitments, including the St Patrick’s Day Parade Committee and East Coast Classics vintage club.
‘ Tina has been a great support and even prepared our own children Tara, James and David for the festival when they were children. We still have their certs at home. I am very thankful to her’.
The 2015 Arklow Music Festival runs from Saturday, March 7 to Sunday, March 15. The closing date for entries is January 16. For further information contact the festival office at (0402) 32732.
Jimmy Russell, PRO Arklow Music Festival.
Some of those who took part in one of the previous festivals.