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1968 Clonmany Festiva1

Extract from the Clonmany Festival 25th Anniversary Souvenir Booklet 1992

   The 1960s were a decade of great change. The Latin Mass went with the second Vatican Council, the idealist Kennedy became President of America, the pragmatic Lemass introduced his economic programme. In music, Rock and Roll and Elvis were followed by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and the Ballad Boom. England won the World Cup. Celtic and Manchester United won the European Cup. In May 1968, the students rioted on the streets of Paris, in October the people of Derry came to grief in that fateful march and in the first week of August. Clonmany ran its first Festival. That summer was a glorious one. By the end of July, the hay was won and the turf saved, so from Meentagh to Mamore, from Cloughfln to the Castles, from Tornabratley to Bun a'Chnoic, they made their way to the Cross every evening.

How did it all begin?

At a meeting that June to organise the annual Parochial Sports, I suggested that because interest in athletics and competition in the events had declined, we should have a weeklong parish Festival instead of sports. After discussing the idea with Jim Toland, he agreed to co-direct It. For the next month we worked day and night to put our ideas into effect. A little older and wiser, perhaps, I should like to recall some of the highlights of that week in August and outline the reasons for its success.


The first Festival was a great celebration of Clonmany by its people for its people. The entertainment provided. the atmosphere created by the enthusiasm of the young organisers and the good will shown by the adult community made us all proud of our own place and determined to make the Festival an annual event. However, it was beyond our wildest dreams that it would last twenty-five years.

The Young Organisers

The main reason has to be the great gang of young people who were living in or around the village that summer. They had shown great civic pride earlier in the summer, in the Tidy Town effort, and no sooner was the idea of Festival mentioned than they latched onto it enthusiastically.

During the month of July, they organised, promoted and supported our first fund-raising function, the weekly disco in the Parochial Hall. They showed talent and skills which surprised many - printing posters, setting up the p.a. system, preparing the Parochial Hall, tidying up afterwards, manning the door, selling refreshments, supplying and selecting records. One of the discoveries was Jim Toland as D.J. and his finest hour was to come later on August Monday evening, when he compered the Open-Air Concert

Great Support from Everybody

The social success of the discos, more than their financial success (50 in the kitty on opening day - a lot of money in 1968) brought the support of the whole community, especially the priests of the parish, the late Fr. Douglas, the Parish Priest, and the curates. Fr. Morris and Fr. O'Donnell who left the Parochial Hall and all Parochial equipment at our disposal. Many of the events took place either in the Parochial Hall (the discos, the dances and the bingo) or in the Priests' Field. Because of its central location, it was ideal for many of the open-air events (the football, the children's sports, the bonny baby show, the fancy dress, the horse shoe throwing, the mini-sheepdog trials, and the highlight of the week, the open-air Concert).

The Irish Kitchen

As the-Priests' Field was the venue for most of the outdoor events, and fortunately the weather was brilliant all week, the idea of converting the Market House into an old Irish Kitchen, complete with authentic fireplace built by Thomas Comiskey and Hugo Boyce) dresser with shining delph, settle bed, bucket of spring water, churn farm implements like flail, trahook, etc., meant that all the activity was centered around the Square. During the day, locals and holiday makers visited this museum to talk about their memories of thatched cottages and to explain their past to their children and grandchildren; at night it was a cabaret centre, packed to capacity, where local entertainers and musicians put on a show that had throngs of people listening outside until midnight. The nightly entertainment was provided by the superb musicians of the Ceili Band - the late John McCarron on melodeon, Seamus Grant on fiddle, Jimmy James Jimmy on drums, Maeliosa and Connie Doherty on piano accordion; the young ballad group, the Spinners with John MeEleney and Danny McCarron on guitars and the Harkin brothers, George and Dan, singing rousing renderings of ballads like "Brennan on the Moor"; Eddie Quigley reciting "Drumlister", and 'The Bachelor" was a star attraction; Mickey Grant, whose comic compositions had everyone in stitches; Janet Coyle and other local dancers who delighted the crowds on the Square every evening before the Kitchen opened and inside when the hooley got under way; Mary Doherty (Tim) whose beautiful voice was often heard in the church choir at the time now performed at this unusual venue.

There were many locals, emigrants and visitors who were happy to give their party piece when invited by the very competent Fear an Ti, Fr. Hugh Brendan Harkin. It was he who had the idea for the Irish Kitchen and he ran it every night with great expertise.

The Irish Kitchen symbolised the welcome and hospitality of the Clonmany people -'Your hearts are like your mountains in the hills of Donegal" as the song says.

The Fashion Show

The success of the first Festival was due to a very varied programme which had something for everyone and not least, for the ladies. The proprietors of the local tweed factory, James McLaughlin and the late Charlie Kelly generously sponsored the first ever Fashion Show, held in the Atlantic Ballroom on the Wednesday evening. The large crowd appreciated the fabulous display of clothes, designed and made by Frances Roddy from tweed woven by George Devlin and his workers, modelled by local beauties and compered by Kathleen McDaid. It was entirely fitting that Fr. Desmond Mullan, who brought the tweed factory to Clonmany ten years earlier, opened the Show. He was immensely proud of the achievements of this fledgling industry and it proved what talent the place had to put on such a professional show. An exhibition of carding and spinning was provided by the late Mrs. Bella Quigley and among local crafts displayed were spinning wheels (large and miniature) made by James Shiels of Carn. The Fashion Show that night in Ballyliffin was an incredible event on its own, but taken with a host of others in the same week, it gave the Festival the fame which it subsequently attained.

Sea-Angling Competition

Another local industry which we highlighted in our programme was fishing by promoting and organising the first ever Sea-Angling Competition from the old pier at Leenan. We got tremendous support from the local boatmen and with the help of the late Conall Doogan and Derry Sea-Angling Clubs, a great variety of fish was landed. Perhaps our initiative, which recognised the potential for commercial development of fishing, was responsible in a small way for the wonderful new pier at Leenan Bay.

Golf Club

The Festival programme, as well as providing entertainment, highlighted the many amenities for tourist development in the parish. Golfing being one of those, we persuaded the members whose captain that year was Eoin Travers, to run the goff competition to be known as the Festival Cup. That summer the Golf Club had unveiled their ambitious plans to extend the 9 hole course to 18 holes. Now-twenty-five years later, we are pleased to see what a superb development has taken place at Pollan - the course and club-house. No wonder that it is now attracting large crowds, summer and winter and with two fine hotels nearby in Ballylifflin, it must have a great future.

The Open-Air Concert

The final event which I'd like to mention Is the Open-Air Concert It was held on the Bank Holiday Monday and is a feature of all the Festivals since. The main attraction was the Nazareth House Band and Singers from Derry, supported by many local and visiting entertainers, among them Wee Willie, the comedian and his musical son, Fr. John Doherty who had been a curate in Clonmany in the early sixties. also Maisie Grant from Buncrana who has been a faithful friend of the Festival down the years. As the concert neared the end, Bulaba silhouetted in the night sky, people sitting on wooden seats. were stunned into silence when the compere, Jim Toland, introduced Larry Cunningham. The concert had been great up to then, but to produce one of Ireland's top singers at that time and to hear him sing "Lovely Leitrim" and "Among the Wicklow Hills" was nothing short of magic. The crowd went speechless. How did they get Larry Cunningham? The simple explanation was that May was spotted getting petrol in the village that evening, invited to sing for us and with Edmund Doherty travelling with him to McDonald's of Dunaff to make sure that he was back in the Cross before the end of the concert

Many other events were memorable. The Treasure Hunt, prepared by Margaret Harkin, brought people on the most scenic routes of the parish and tested their knowledge of the local history and geography. The Emigrants' Dance held in the Parochial Hall on Tuesday night was a great social occasion with supper provided for all. The Festival Queen Dance, billed for the Marquee at the shore in Ballyliffin, was one of those events which could have been cancelled, because only an hour before the dance, the Band, the Bankers Showband (who had recently recorded "Lovely Leenan Bay") phoned to say they could not come. After a heated argument we decided to go ahead with the disco instead of a dance. The rest is history. Ellie Masterson (McLaughlin) was crowned the first Festival Queen and Michael Galbraith the only live musician present played "Congratulations" on his accordion.

The Festival which had only 50 on opening day, did make money that first year, which on the advice of our Treasurer then, Randle Doherty, went into a fund to buy the Pond Field which today has a modem sewage plant built subsequently by the County Council, and the new football pitch developed by the Shamrocks. The Festival could still fund local projects. such as the restoration of the Market Rouse before it is too late.

Emigrants' Festival

The First Festival was an emigrants' Festival. Much of the spirit was due to the generosity of people at home with their time and talent to welcome back from England, Scotland and America. Their week at home was more memorable as they met and mixed with old friends again and it encouraged them to come back often to their own place. Whatever changes the Festival has come through in the quarter of a century since it started, it has helped the people at home to keep in touch with their brothers, sisters who have gone away.

Everyone at home should get involved with running the Festival because everyone benefits from it. It's great to see the Cross packed every year with people from all over the parish. Indeed, tribute should be paid to the many people who have helped over the twenty-five years to keep the Festival going - the committees, the voluntary workers, the sponsors, the publicans, who provided a great service down the years. The entertainers and all those at home and abroad who gave it their support. My great wish is that some of the carnival atmosphere we created in August 1968 will happen again in 1992 and that Clonmany will continue to celebrate its Festival for another 25 years.

Marius Harkin.

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