Tuesday 23 October 2018

'Nobody really showed up the first year' - How these young locals created one of the country's biggest music festivals

Indiependence Festival has saved Mitchelstown's spirit - says locals

Indiependence crowd (Photo credit Indiependence)
Indiependence crowd (Photo credit Indiependence)
Eamonn Walsh and James O' Sullivan
Aerial shot of Indie. Photo Credit: Tony Irwin
Picture This at Indiependence 2016 (Photo credit Indiependence)
Indie fans (Photo Credit Indiependence)
A band at Mitchelstown Music trail last year (Photo Credit Mitchelstown Business Association)
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

From a free event in the town's local square - to one of the country's biggest music festivals hosting 12,000 people and chart-topping music acts.

Indiependence Music and Arts Festival has evolved from a free concert in the town's New Square to an open-air event hosting an array of national and international acts.

Organiser John Finn, who is from Mitchelstown, told Independent.ie that although the festival is "bursting at the seams", they are happy with its position as one of Ireland's most established events.

"It's growing a little bit every year. The size for us is perfect, we're bursting at the seams, but it's where we want to be. It's grown from 5,000 people to over 10,000 which is a massive feat for us," he said.

John and his group of friends all volunteered at the former Mitchelstown Music Festival when they were teenagers. It was a free event held in the town's landmark square and was pop-orientated with acts, such as Boyzone, Samantha Mumba and Six all gracing its stage over the years.

In the mid-noughties, the pop festival was cancelled and this led to the birth of Indiependence.

"It was cancelled one year. I can't remember why but I remember walking around the town that weekend and thinking back to the year before when there had been such a buzz around the town," recalled John.

"Myself and the lads had volunteered at the festival so we decided to run it the next year. We changed it to indie bands. We had the Frank and Walters and other good bands playing but nobody really showed up."

Tony Irwin Indie 15 Aerial.jpg
Aerial shot of Indie. Photo Credit: Tony Irwin

But John and his friends didn't let this dishearten them. The following year they moved the festival to a small site on the edge of the town and, although they didn't make any money from it, they received positive feedback and decided to take the leap and set up an open-air festival on a large green field site.

"In 2010 we moved on to a site near the Dublin Road and we got great feedback. We lost a lot of money but we got a great reception. So, we decided to all take out a credit union loan and make a go of the festival and move it to a bigger site," John explained.

In 2011, the festival relocated to Deer Farm, Mitchelstown.

And now, while for 11 months of the year it is home to a herd of deer, for one weekend in August it hosts "Indie", which is the shortened nickname for the festival.

The festival has one of the most diverse line-ups of any music event in Ireland. Headliners include, indie singer Tom Odell, Limerick band Hermitage Green and dance DJ Sigma. 

According to John, this is to cater for the various ages and tastes that flock to the festival each year.

"The population of Mitchelstown is 3,000 people and the population of Indiependence is 12,000. You need a mix. You can't just go down the one road. It seems to be paying off," he added.

Picture This_Indie_John-1.jpg
Picture This at Indiependence 2016 (Photo credit Indiependence)


In 2007, 70 people lost their jobs due to the closure of the Galtee meat factory in the North Cork town.

The recession hit in 2008 and countless businesses on its main street closed their doors. According to the owner of Maxol Mace in Mitchelstown, David Myers, the festival has helped revive the town in recent years.

He said: "Businesses in the town had really been suffering but business owners have really bought into the festival and the festival has bought into us. There are buses running in and out from Deer Farm to the town so people can get a bite to eat here.

"It adds €5m to the local economy and is our busiest weekend of the year. Killarney and Galway have their races but Mitchelstown has its festival."

Eamonn Walsh and James O' Sullivan

Maxol is the first shop that festival goers meet if they venture into the town from the festival campsite.

"We'll be packed. If you want to get a breakfast here on Saturday or Sunday it will be almost an impossibility. It's our harvest and without it we'd be greatly setback," Mr Myers said.

Fianna Fáil TD Kevin O' Keeffe is a native of Mitchelstown and said that the festival helps put the North Cork town on the map.

"It's great for tourism. It really gets our name out there and the festival is run without any difficulty so that's reassuring for parents," he said.

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Indie fans (Photo Credit Indiependence)

Last year, Mitchelstown Business Association decided to do more to attract festival goers in to the town and launched a new initiative called Mitchelstown Music Trail.

Buskers dotted themselves along the main street in the hope of winning the top prize of a spot to perform at Indiependence for the following year.

Organiser Claudia Matassa told Independent.ie that the busking trail was so successful that it was running again this year.

"It's on this Saturday and we don't just have people from the town in it. We have outsiders as well. It has helped bring music back in to the centre of the town as that's where it all began. We have canopies to protect the acts if it rains," she added.

Mitchelstown native, Eamonn Walsh (18) won the music trail in 2016 and will perform at Indiependence on Saturday at 6.45pm in its Beer Hall venue. He will be accompanied by his friend James O' Sullivan from Ballincollig, Cork and is excited to play at his home festival.

A band at Mitchelstown Music trail last year (Photo Credit Mitchelstown Business Association)

"I was surprised to win last year as it was just me and my piano. I'm nervous but I'm really excited. This is actually my third year playing at the festival. I'm going to sing some pop tunes but I'll try to keep it to indie pop since we are at Indiependence. I love Mumford and Sons and Hudson Taylor," the proud teenager said.

Eamonn added that he believes sometimes locals can take Indiependence for granted as there has always been a music festival in the town.

"We should cherish it more. I can't imagine living in Mitchelstown and there not being a festival as it has always been here."

Organiser John Finn said he is delighted with how cooperative Mitchelstown businesses are when it comes to accommodating the three-day event. He also said he won't let the dreadful weather outlook for the weekend dampen his spirits.

"If festival-goers fancy some down time they can go to a restaurant for a soup or a sandwich down the town or get a drink in a pub. There's great co-operation there. It really has rejuvenated the town and there's a great relationship between ourselves and the locals," said John.

"It'll be showery but that's all part of the festival experience in Ireland."

Indiependence Music and Arts festival will run from Friday 4- Sunday 6, August. Weekend tickets are sold out but there are limited day tickets still available.

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