Bantry puts its faith in old skills

In Portugal, fadó means destiny, and it also describes a style of music that is characterised by mournful tunes.

In Ireland, fadó means “of years gone by”.

Here in Bantry, over the St Patrick’s weekend, the concept of fadó, Irish style, was far from mournful, and was celebrated in a unique way.

The town turned to its past, in a recreation of the old days when candles and lanterns lit the town, seanachaís were found weaving their magic by many a fireside, and freshly churned country butter was found on every table.

Initiated by the Bantry Business Association and the Bantry Town Council, the response to the Fadó Festival was impressive. Every shop window displayed old farming equipment, early radios, churns, and sods of turf. Traders and visitors alike dressed in period costume during the three-day celebration.

There’s definitely a bit of a buzz going on around Bantry this year, with a wealth of events taking place during the spring and summer months — the Chamber Music and Literary Festival, Masters of Tradition, the Bay Run Half Marathon, the National Windsurfing Championship, the Fastnet International Rally, the Bantry Show, and the Atlantic Challenge, an international contest of seamanship. Bantry is set to be a hive of activity in 2012.

I asked Gearoid O’Leary, chairman of Bantry Bay Business Association, what was different this year.

* There definitely seems to be something in the air, Gearoid. What’s it all about?

>> Well, it’s true that there’s a buzz about the place, and it has everything to do with the people of Bantry. They haven’t sat back and waited for help to come to them. And sometimes this part of the world can get overlooked. I’m born here and I’ve lived here all my life, and I’d have said I knew the place as well as anybody. But I have to tell you that I have been completely overwhelmed by the way Bantry people responded to the Fadó Festival.

* When did you come up with the idea for a three-day festival to celebrate the St Patrick’s Day holiday?

>> We decided last December that we wanted to do something different for St Patrick’s weekend in 2012. We worked together with the Bantry Town Council on making it happen. And we all knew how good Bantry people are at pitching in, but the response was amazing. Our idea was for a three-day festival that celebrated the strength, wit and wisdom of our ancestors, and which took people back to a time when there were no mobile phones, computers, or electric lights.

* Was there a lot of organisation involved? When I was in town over the weekend, I noticed that every shop window had been transformed with artefacts, which were associated with bygone days. It was a bit like a living Fadó museum.

>> We visited the pubs and businesses and had the support of the vintners. From there on, it was the Bantry people who made it happen. They rummaged the attics and got their customers to bring in all the bits and pieces that they could find too. Together, we created a time when our entertainment consisted of story telling, plays, music, and a good sing song. And in keeping with the time before electrification theme, there were candles and lanterns after dark. Ronan Wilmot and Nuala Hayes performed the Tailor and Ansty on all three nights, and the shows were sold out.

* The candles and lanterns really highlighted the arrival of the drummers and pageant of fire performers, didn’t they?

>> Yes, and they were amazing. We had decided that rather than have a procession, we were going to have a pageant with all that spectacle instead. Over the weekend, there were children’s fancy dress and treasure hunt, a photographic exhibition, and Sophie Shelswell-White kindly opened Bantry House ahead of their season for a special candlelit tour, led by the Historical Society’s Hazel Vickery. Everyone wanted to participate. The Red Cross were there too, just in case, but they didn’t have a single visit.

* In some establishments they were showing how bread was made, or butter churned, weren’t they?

>> That’s right. And that was something people set up just because they wanted to. There’s a great pride in our past here, and the skills that people had. That was so successful that we’re thinking we might run workshops on those skills next year.

* It’s going to be a busy year for Bantry isn’t it? Why do you think that is?

>> Bantry is blossoming, and international festivals like the Atlantic Challenge are proof of that. We have special people who are proud of their homeplace, and who are great for supporting their community and pulling together. In our opinion, this is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and it is still hugely underdeveloped. It’s an ideal destination for tourists of all kinds. It’s clean, beautiful and welcoming.”


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