Uisneach Inn, Killare, Co Westmeath – Bealtaine, May 4/5 2013

Reaction to the 2010 Festival

Emergency services, local authorities, tourism bodies and, most importantly, festival goers hailed the returning Celtic festival at Uisneach as a triumph. With OAP’s and children granted free entrance to the event, there was an unrivalled mix of generations on the hillside, soaking up what the Irish Independent declared as “a festival with a difference”. The Irish Times added the “enchanted” festival was “a source of hope”. The regional press too was united in its praise with the Westmeath Examiner hailing it as the most significant cultural event in the region in centuries. Radio stations also buzzed with great reports.

Gardaí reported no arrests and the ambulance services also declared a clean bill of health with no major incidents reported. Hotels throughout Westmeath all reported full houses, with B&B’s also painting a similar picture. Midlands Tourism officer Rhona Rogers said the “stunning event” gave the region a “significant economic and tourism boost at a time when it is needed most”. Speaking on behalf of Fáilte Ireland, Rory McCarthy said he was “very impressed” with the festival.

The festival culminated with a spectacular fire ceremony and dazzling fire parade, which was led by the winners of the 2010 Dublin St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the LUXe group. The colourful pageant featured night floats and hundreds of supremely talented fire performers, musicians and other performers. Our thanks must go to all the incredible fire performers who took part – From Babylon’s Inferno to the Stagecraft group, from Lisa Dunne and her crew to the Galway gang we are eternally indebted.

When the parade reached the summit, a national beacon fire was lit and as its flames reached into the clear night sky, fires in dozens of other counties were visible on the horizon. One by one, the neighbouring hills replied with this most elemental of pre-communication, and they were joined by dozens of others. Controlled fires were ignited on some 73 sites around the country, with small gatherings and events also taking place at the fire sites. From Dingle to Donegal to Tory Island fires were lit, with several other major festivals, including Féile na Bealtaine in Kerry and the Badminton Horse Trials in the UK, all teaming up with Festival of the Fires to make this a truly unique and iconic event. Over 100 attendees came from Germany for the event, which was covered by a German TV crew.

The Hill of Uisneach is a unique site. Currently on a UNESCO shortlist for World Heritage Status, it is a place that attracted Egyptians up the Shannon and was mentioned by Caesar in Gaul. Our own De Dannan, Fionn MacCumhaill, Brian Boru, St Patrick, Daniel O’Connell, De Valera and Pearce were all visitors here, and there is even half a legend the stones for Stonehenge were taken by Pendragon and Merlin with a raiding army of 15,000 men from this Mount Killarus, or as we know it, the Hill of Uisneach. The first car in Ireland drove from Belfast to Uisneach for a musical gathering, and in more recent years pop star Michael Jackson walked its slopes. Steeped in history for at least five millennia, Uisneach commands a special place in Ireland, not just as the former home of the high kings with its unique view of 20 counties, but, according to legend, is the place where Ireland first received the gift of fire from the gods.

In accordance with Dept of the Environment regulations, the main festivities took place away from the main monuments, in a 40 acre saucer-shaped meadow by the shores of the hillside Lough Lugh. There, two musical stages played host to the likes of Sharon Shannon, Kíla, Mundy, Jerry Fish and dozens of others. A 19-strong group of Frank Gavigan Branch Comhaltas Ceoiltoiri Éireann musicians and the 50-strong Mullingar Town Band, the current European marching band champions, also played. History played a significant role and all festival goers received a historical lecture at the festival gates. Historical tours of the entire Uisneach expanse were also a big hit with Mullingar Mayor Ruth Illingworth and her team doing an incredible job.

Artwork was dotted throughout the festival site and on neighbouring hills, with wicker villages, wooden animals and huts, yurts, tipis and even a lake crannóg all enchanting festival goers. Dozens of angels from the ‘Angels – Beacons of Hope’ project dotted the summit walkway, with an angel designed and painted by the late Gerry Ryan adding extra poignancy as it arrived on site the day he passed away. Festival goers lit candles for the late broadcaster and a moment’s silence was observed during the main parade. Security at the event was a throwback to ancient Celtic times, with a tartan-clad army of 70 guards on horseback patrolling the site and its perimeters. Their first appearance on site – during Sharon Shannon’s set – will live long in the memory of those present.

The family-friendly feel to the festival was confirmed with children in every corner, red-faced from running and excitement, their squeals of discovery and thrill punctuating the evening air with the relish of promise and memory in the same sound. As the fires reached for the sky OAP’s could truly say they had never seen the likes of it before, but luckily for them the festival organisers, impresario Paddy Dunning and farmer David Clarke, have confirmed that they will get a chance again next year when Festival of the Fires returns over the May Bank Holiday weekend at Uisneach and throughout the country.

For more information, keep an eye on this site or find the Festival of the Fires Group on Facebook.

3 Responses Subscribe to comments

  1. ronan

    We’re still trying to get this site working properly. Please bear with us and check the Facebook page instead. Thanks

    Jun 11, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

  2. mary mockler lordan

    wheres the details for the next one in 2011 ???

    Feb 09, 2011 @ 11:20 am

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