City of Merchants Festival planned to boost national profile

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

NEWRY, Mourne and Down District Council is making a concerted effort to raise the area's national profile with its many tourism events, including a new Newry City Festival for 2017.

A proposed Newry City of Merchants Festival is scheduled to take place next September/October at a cost of 100,000. The Festival was included in the list of signature events for 2017 which was presented to councillors at last week's Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism (ER&T) committee meeting.

Members endorsed the programme, which will cost 770,910 for the council organised events while an externally led programme of events will cost 140,000.

Some of the key events and festivals receiving the green light, are, Wake the Giant, Warrenpoint, (100,000), St Patrick's Day, Newry and Downpatrick (147,060), Grand Fonda (30,000), Newry Pride (5,000), Newry Water Festival (20,000), Camlough Water Festival (5,000), Summer Music Fest (50,000), Food Festival Promotions (50,000), Forest Parks (15,000), Ring of Gullion Footsteps in the Forest ((70,000), Festival of Flight, Newcastle, (68,850), and Mourne International Walking Festival (20,000).

ER&T director Marie Ward informed councillors that the programme of events would be officially launched in January. She explained that this would allow time for "the effective organisation and development" of the events, as well as providing local businesses "the opportunity to build packages around these core events."

In the report presented to councillors, which included the list of events and festivals, it was highlighted that tourism events could be categorised into "the flagship and generator levels, on the basis that they attract visitors from beyond the district, including out of state, to the destination and in doing so generate an economic return for the area."

It was also stated that out of season events, at Halloween and Christmas, were "important economic generators" for local towns.

The role of enterprise, regeneration and tourism was to "develop and deliver signature events that create a positive return for the region in the form of bed nights and spend."

Speaking at the meeting, Sinn Fein Councillor Micky Ruane praised staff for the festivals and events they organised this year, stating that they deserved credit.

He thought the proposed major festival for Newry would be "an exciting programme" and he felt the earlier people knew about what was going to take place "the better for everyone."

Independent member Jarlath Tinnelly said the council perhaps did not give enough recognition to certain festivals, like Blues on the Bay and Fiddlers' Green. The committees of those festivals sometimes lacked certainty about financial support, he said.

Mr Tinnelly stated that he had reservations about the Wake the Giant Festival due to "the collosal amount of money, 100,000," and he thought the residents of Warrenpoint should have a greater say in how that money was to be spent.

Aspects of the Wake the Giant Festival were a success but bands had been playing for four or five hours, on two days, and "no-one was there but themselves."

Mr Ruane disagreed, recalling that Sunday night on the front promenade with the bands playing had been "a huge success" and that even the rain had not put people off.

Ms Ward said they would look at the format of the Wake the Giant Festival but it had been its first year and was "an absolutely huge success, with 125,000 views on social media."

Sinn Fein's Willie Clarke said all the festivals would grow but the UUP's Glyn Hanna had found that there was "a massive big problem for the Mournes DEA" as "all the money was pretty much targetting towards Newcastle."

SDLP member Declan McAteer said he would like to see more money being allocated to the food festivals and he thought they could perhaps support the Maidens of the Mourne committee as they were trying to internationalise their festival. Ms Ward said they could "certainly meet with the committee."

Mr Ruane was not sure if the Maidens of the Mourne Festival had improved over the years and doubted if it had gone international.

Councillor Brian Quinn (SDLP) said that maybe the Maidens Festival had not improved as much as the committee would have liked but it had been running for 20 years and the committee did need support.

Speaking to The Democrat after learning about the proposed Newry City of Merchants Festival, Newry Maritime Association PRO James McArevey welcomed the news.

He said "it makes sense to celebrate Newry's industrial heritage and of its canal and port" and he hoped the proposed festival would include all aspects of that "very important rich heritage." There were more than two centuries of history which could be tapped into.

He said the Newry Maritime Association would be only too willing to assist in any way with their knowledge and expertise in developing the proposed festival.

Mills in the town and surrounding area, including Bessbrook, relied on the canal for exporting and importing goods, said Mr McArevey, adding that there were many warehouses along Buttercrane Quay, Merchants Quay, and Sugar Island, which relied on the canal.

Glass manufacturing was an important trade in Newry in the late 1700s, said Mr McArevey, with a factory in William Street and another on Merchants' Quay, with products being shipped to New Orleans.

And he pointed out that several of the town's seafarers were decorated for their courage, including Raymond Kelly, who was posthumously awarded the George Cross, while two Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded to Newry men for their valour in Dunkirk and Normandy.

“Every man who went down the canal was a hero and they all contributed to the economic development of Newry," stated Mr McArevey. "Many families living in the town looked to the port for work and wages to sustain them."

He highlighted that the port may be closed for more than 40 years but there were "still many tangible links as there are people alive today who can recall those who worked there and the seafarers."

Mr McArevey expressed the hope that the council would develop the theme of Newry's maritime heritage as "we should be playing to our strengths because of our unrivalled port history and it is important that it is acknowledged."

And while the port "may be consigned to the past, its rich history can be used as a key driver in social and recreational attractions, including the vision for a park for everyone at the Albert Basin."

Mr McArevey said the Newry Maritime Association had directed all its efforts in creating "a maritime footprint in the district." And the physical evidence was there with the heritage trail commemorating the SS Retriever and SS Connemara tragedy. In addition to a total of 13 plaques and souvenier programmes there was also a commemorative bench at the Albert Basin.

He believed the Albert Basin was "crying out for development for the people of the town and for visitors."

Mr McAreavey ended by stressing that it was "incumbent on everyone to make the effort to develop the Albert Basin both for social and recreational purposes, as it and the canal were the lifeblood, the main arterial route, for Newry for over two centuries."


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