Féile an Phobail, the West Belfast Festival will shortly kick off with this year’s selection of debates, music, discussion, cultural events and comedy to mention some of the key elements within it. It runs from 3rd August – 14th August though the programme gives details of some events outside these dates.
Féile began in 1988 as a way of showcasing the positive side of the west of Belfast city and to channel energy into creative expression. That time of the year, around 9th August and the anniversary of Internment had been up until then an annual few days of riot and mayhem in various places throughout the city.
I’ve been attending events for the past 15 years which I started when I Iived and worked in West Belfast. In those years, I have been challenged, stimulated and encouraged by what I have seen and heard. I’ve regularly gone to the annual “health” lecture which has focused on different issues such as mental health and the price of alcohol. I also attended an afternoon event put on by two ex prisoners’ groups – one Loyalist and the other Republican. When I could manage it, I attended the annual Trócaire lecture. All in all, I pick and choose what suits and interests me and not everything does!
As I was looking through this year’s programme, I was struck by the number of events which offered a much wider perspective than a Republican one. At present we are living through the “Decade of Centenaries”; in 2016 we are in one of the key years in this decade, so I was interested to see the number of events which focused on the Battle of the Somme. It came as no surprise to see events associated with the Rising but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Somme is well featured. Indeed there is a special section in the programme entitled “Perspectives on 1916 – The Battle of the Somme”. Historians such as Philip Orr, Dr Richard Grayson, Jason Burke and Dr Brian Hanley will be contributing to events with titles such as “The Battle of the Somme – Key events”, “The Somme & The British Army”, “Three Ulster Protestant Family Histories”, “Loyalist Memory & Commemoration” and “Irishmen who fought for & against the Empire”.
The inclusion of “non-Republican” events if I might them call them that does not stop there. For the purposes of this article, I will focus only on events that have a Northern Ireland dimension. The programme also has a range of events picking up themes and issues from various parts of the world including the race issue in the USA and the ongoing situation in Palestine.
Moving away from the Battle of the Somme events I would point to the Doubleband documentary, “More than a Flag”. This will be shown in St Mary’s University College and actor Dan Gordon and Michael Hewitt from Doubleband will be there to answer questions after the showing. I saw it in Stormont during Four Corners Festival; it’s a well made piece and worth watching particularly in light of the issues which some marching bands still raise today. I say “Maith sibh” (good for you) to the Féile committee for putting it on.
Now that I am living in North Belfast I will pinpoint a few events that will be happening in this part of the city. Loyalist playwright Bobby Niblock will be staging a number of scenes from his play “The Man who swallowed a dictionary” in the beautiful Duncairn Cultural and Arts Centre, North Belfast’s equivalent to West Belfast’s An Chultúrlann. The play explores the life of former PUP leader, David Ervine and will be followed by a presentation on “ACT” – Action for Community Transformation, the transformation initiative working with Loyalist ex combatants. In that same venue and as part of the Greater New Lodge Community Festival and Sailortown, a number of other items are on offer including a presentation by noted historian Dr Eamon Phoenix: “North Belfast 1922: Political Violence, Partition and the Craig-Collins Pact”. There is also “ Healing, Honour and Hope” which is a conversation between Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Declan Kearney facilitated by former Methodist President, Heather Morris. This follows on from the publication of a magazine called 100 days of prayer for 100 years of history.
The festival or is it festivals considering the references to the one in North Belfast and the Colin Summer Festival in the West include/s a number of tours of Belfast’s cemeteries. I went on the City cemetery one a few years ago led by the energetic Tom Hartley who in a knowledgeable and sensitive way tells the story of key people buried there and their part in Belfast’s history. The year I took the tour, it happened that Tom had asked the grave diggers to dig down to uncover part of the wall – yes only in Belfast! That too is part of the rich history of Belfast city. There are also tours of Milltown and Clifton Street cemeteries.
For those who have never been to any event in the festival or féile, why not go online and look at the programme, http://www.feile2016.com or for people like me who need to see a hard copy, there are copies available not only in the west of city but at a number of venues in the city centre including the Welcome Centre opposite Belfast City Hall. I have to say I need to sit down with my diary and to work out what I can attend. Whilst I am generally very positive about the festival , I have a gripe about the layout of the programme, 116 pages what with advertising, all events are presented bi-lingually, it can be very easy to miss some events mistaking them for part of the advertising! Guys, make it easier for next year please! That said the effort of taking time to go through it is worth it.
So think about going to an event and in the words of the infamous Mrs Doyle from Father Ted, “you will, you will, you will”. Maybe see you at one?
Fr. Martin Magill is the Parish Priest at St Johns Parish, Belfast.