THE latest East Clare festival to fall foul of the Covid-19 restrictions is the hugely popular Féile Brían Ború, which organisers have decided to call off in the interests of public health and safety.
Chairperson of East Clare Tourism and member of the organising committee, Arlene White, said that while the decision had been a tough one to make, hopes had been gradually fading over the last couple of weeks. The 2019 festival took place on the second week in July, and in the context of the roadmap for re-opening the economy, organisers couldn’t envisage a similar gathering on the shores of Lough Derg in just over five week’s time. “Last year, we had 2,000 people for the fireworks display, and we just couldn’t have crowds of that size in the context of the coronavirus restrictions,” Ms White explained. “Our organising committee also arranges the Killaloe St Patrick’s Day parade, and once we had to call that off, we started to scale back on preparations and bookings for Féile Brían Ború.”
While organisers are fortunate that they are not out-of-pocket, the impact of the cancellation of the Féile is significant. “We work with a lot of local service providers,” Ms White noted, “we are very conscious of the knock-on impact on their business, particularly in the context of all of the cancellations right across East Clare and the county as a whole.”
Supporting communities and small businesses who would normally receive a vital boost from festival events during the height of the summer tourist season, should be considered when planning for local and national recovery, according to Councillor Pat Hayes. “There has been huge disruption to tourism and the local economy,” the Fianna Fáil member noted. “The biggest economic impact in this area is the cancellation of the Feakle Festival and that would be followed, in monetary terms, by the cancellation of the Scariff Harbour Festival. Even the very small weekend community festivals, like those in Tumagraney and Bodyke, mean a lot in those areas and their cancellation also has an impact.” The Caher-based councillor said that supporting everyone affected by the contraction in tourism should be a priority when planning for the recovery of the rural economy. “The knock-on impact of having to cancel festivals and local events is considerable,” he noted. “You have the loss of income for those in the hospitality trade, and you also have the loss of seasonal jobs for the likes of tour guides and operators of summer businesses. Then, there are the other issues like the loss of bookings for local halls. We have a new one in Flagmount and while we lost the use of it due to the restrictions over the last few months, there are still bills to pay and costs to cover. Opportunities to raise funds have also dropped off considerably. What we need is a working group to consider all of these impacts and the Killaloe Municipal District could certainly consider ways to respond.”
For tourism in East Clare, the loss of revenues and spin-off benefits for the local economy is a set-back, particularly for a region that had been making steady inroads in terms of raising its profile.
“We are conscious that the likes of Féile Brían Ború really showed off Killaloe to its best advantage,” said Arlene White. “We had been able to incorporate lots of water-based activities last year and the weekend of the festival increased the number of day-trippers from Limerick, as well as the number of overnight stays. We would have had seen a increase in the number of boats coming in for the festival and a really great buzz which boosted local business.”
Many local festival committees around the county are moving their events on-line, where possible, and considering ways to host scaled-down events before the end of 2020, but Ms White said it’s more likely that Féile Brían Ború won’t run until 2021. “I think there will be a risk of a lot things being crammed into the calendar before the end of this year,” she remarked. “I don’t think that’s viable for us, but I would be hopeful that voluntary committees will have a break this year and return with all guns blazing in 2021.”
Ms White also expressed the hope that visitors and local people will have a new appreciation for festivals and that more supports will be available from the statutory agencies. “We have so much to offer in East Clare, from the Blossom Harp Festival to the Scariff Harbour Festival,” she said. “The hope would be that people will really appreciate that and get behind all of our events next year. We would also be anticipating and hoping we will have all of the support we have enjoyed for Féile Brían Ború from the local authorities in Clare and Tipperary, Waterways Ireland and local businesses. So many people work hard, often for many years, to run festivals and it is sad when you consider that events can’t go ahead this year. At the same time, we have to look at the bigger picture and follow national guidelines. I would be hopeful for 2021 that everything and everyone will be reinvigorated.”