Setting out on its 53rd voyage, the Ballina Salmon Festival ship looked a little leaky. Like many other community-run events, it was struggling to attract volunteers and committee members willing to take on the significant commitment involved in delivering what is now one of the West of Ireland’s largest community-led events. However, the prospect of losing the festival rallied the Ballina community, and early in the year, offers of help began to roll in. A new committee was elected and what was essentially a the race against time began, to ensure that Ballina Salmon Festival 2017 not only went ahead, but laid the foundations for a brighter future ahead.
Laying out its 2017 programme, the festival committee set a number of objectives. They identified the need to re-engage with the community, and attract increased volunteer input and business support, and to re-invigorate the festival and re-position it as a fun and enjoyable event in which to become involved. Given the huge amount of musical and artistic talent available in the North Mayo region, the committee also made a conscious decision to give this talent a platform, confident that given the opportunity, local groups would create events within the festival programme of a quality high enough to delight and excite our locals and visitors alike and generate publicity for the region as a tourism destination.
This proved to be the case, and the 2017 programme of events delivered a mix of exciting new events and old favourites that proved to the world that Ballina Salmon Festival was back and better than ever. ‘A Night at the Proms’, a stunning musical collaboration between the town’s many choral groups MC’d by RTE’s George Lee, with a surprise appearance by Tommy Fleming proved a huge success and sell-out, while ‘A Celebration of Life through Traditional Irish Music, Song and Dance’ showcased the very best of North Mayo’s traditional music and dance heritage.
Events like Ballina Arts Centre’s “Perspectives 11” Exhibition, ‘The Core Music Stage’ lunchtime street concerts, and the revived Junior Literary Awards enhanced the festival’s arts content significantly, while live music in the Old Military Quarter each night brought the party back to the heart of town. Old favourites like the Teddy Bear’s Picnic and Heritage Day attracted record crowds, with the impromptu appearance of local tenor, Garda Alan McGinty on stage with the prestigious Garda Band proving a memorable and emotional moment for Ballina resulting in national headlines.
Community came to the fore as numerous community and voluntary groups and businesses helped to man the crew and steward during events. Over the course of the week An Garda Siochána and the Order of Malta became part of the festival crew, and a team of transition years acted as festival ambassadors, distributing flyers and sharing the week’s events on social media. Overall, it is estimated that over 250,000 passed through the town during festival week; a significant boost to the local economy that will benefit businesses both directly and indirectly.
Festival Chairman Billy Lewis said: “Ballina Salmon Festival 2017 was an outstanding success and this is due to the effort of the whole community and how the whole town got behind it. I cannot thank enough Mayo County Council, the Gardai, the Department of Social Protection, the voluntary groups, all the sports clubs and the Order of Malta for their commitment and support. The directors, event coordinators and all the committees, I am so honoured to work with you and so humbled by your efforts and commitment. To all the volunteers who played a part no matter how small or big my thanks. I have no doubt the Festival will go on brighter and bigger and as it is our window to the world, the light in our hearts is brighter than ever for all to see.”
Festival PRO Anne-Marie Flynn said: “It’s a testament to the business, voluntary groups and individuals of Ballina that in spite of our challenges, we were able to deliver a fantastic week of entertainment catering to all ages and tastes. We’re especially grateful to the businesses that backed the festival and the hundreds of people who volunteered throughout the week. The positive feedback received via our social media channels, where people followed the action from as far away as the UK, Chicago, New York, Perth, the Middle East, even Russia is already inspiring us to create an even bigger and better festival week next year.”
As it seeks to progress in 2018, it is never too early to get started. Ballina Salmon Festival is already looking to the future, and is hoping to attract involvement from more new groups, particularly those working with young, disadvantaged and older people.