A feast of mu­sic for 46 years


Bray People - - NEWS -

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.

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