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Wednesday, 21st August 2019

A strong committee, plenty of volunteers and funding needed for new festival

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Members of the Drum Kitchen Samba band from Berlin pictured during the 2013 Samba festival. Photo: andy Spearman.

In the wake of the hugely successful Fleadh Cheoil there is much talk doing the rounds about organising an annual festival in Drogheda to keep the momentum going.

“What will be the legacy of the Fleadh?” we asked on Monday. “Will it just be memories of two crazy weeks or can we make it more than that now we have proved we can run a huge event in our town?”

The responses on social media have been in favour of getting our own festival going. We’ve all seen what can be achieved when the community gets behind a project such as this and now we want more of the same please.

Nothing succeeds like success and we have two hugely successful Fleadhs in the bag but we mustn’t underestimate the amount of work that goes into delivering a successful festival.

Just getting the Fleadh to Drogheda was the result of at least seven years of work by Lolo Robinson and her committee and the event itself needed thousands of hours of work from hundreds of people, most of them volunteers, to make it such a success.

The most important ingredient for a successful festival is a strong organising committee made up of people who are well placed to have a big input and dedicated enough to stick with the project through thick and thin.

Number two ingredient is funding, nothing happens without funding. Vital also are public buy-in, an attractive programme of events, more funding, an army of volunteers, goodwill and support from the local authority, the backing of local business, especially the pubs, hotels and restaurants. Oh, and more funding.

For 20 years Drogheda did have its own festival, the Samba Festival first took place in 1994 as part of the Drogheda 800 celebrations and, thanks to the dedication and hard work of its founders and main instigators Brian and Phil Conyngham and a small committee, it ran successfully for 20 years.

Like the Fleadh, the focus of the Samba Festival was on a small section of the musical spectrum, perhaps it was too narrow a focus, but it succeeded in bringing some very colourful and sometimes bizarre acts from around the world to the Boyneside. It also filled hotels and guest houses in the area for a week and local pubs and restaurants benefitted hugely.

The Samba Festival came to an end in 2015 when it was cancelled because the Council funding was reduced to a level that made it impossible to continue. Did I mention than funding was important?

The Irish Maritime Festival was also a big success for several years. Last year it attracted some 60,000 people to the banks of the Boyne but it too suffered a funding cut and had to be stopped.

The Fleadh took some €4m to run but it returned something in the region of €40m to the local economy so community festivals are big business if you can get them right. Just be prepared for a lot of hard work.

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