Entertainment Festivals

Sunday 16 December 2018

Trip to Tipp returns and its legend will be recalled by a generation

Editor's note

Fans at Feile 1991 Picture: Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection
Fans at Feile 1991 Picture: Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection

Fionnán Sheahan

Confession time. Although I was born and reared in Thurles, my first-hand knowledge of Féile is limited as I missed several of the festivals. I tended to be voluntarily deported down in the Gaeltacht in the Dingle Peninsula every August in the early 90s.

Despite catching the latter years of Féile, the accusations of 'you'd don't know what it was like, man, you weren't there' are sadly valid.

My house was always a hive of activity as my siblings and a variety of friends, family and guests descended for the weekend. The late Gerry Ryan even did a live interview from the kitchen, where the mischievous DJ gently took the piss out of my mother with a bunch of innuendo-laden questions, which largely went over her head.

Thurles was always associated with the GAA and Semple Stadium. A Munster hurling final in Thurles is still one of the great Irish occasions.

There was a sense of pride attached to being from a town that became Ireland's answer to Woodstock, Glastonbury or Roskilde.

What began as a showcase for the best Irish acts in a vibrant music scene quickly became an international-standard festival.

Speak to those of a certain generation and a mere mention of the 'Trip to Tipp' will bring back recollections of the legendary event.

However, Féile enjoyed a love-hate relationship with the town.

Thurles was ravaged by unemployment in the 1980s following the closure of the sugar factory, the town's largest employer.

The influx of hard cash Féile brought was welcomed by many. But the drink, drugs and crime resulted in a backlash. The town centre, Liberty Square, turned into the country's largest beer garden, filled largely with young people who were just having the craic.

The then Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Dr Dermot Clifford, who was based in the town, reflected the views of the sceptics when he gave Féile a belt of the crozier.

As patron of the GAA, he decried the association's links as host.

"In the name of all that is good and holy be careful with rock concerts," he said in a broadside.

Step forth, a future editor of the Irish Independent to appear on an RTÉ 'yoof' programme to defend the honour of the put-upon younger generation.

Pointing to the Archbishop's role as the patron of the GAA, I retaliated saying there was drinking at matches too but he didn't have a problem there. A tad of an exaggeration, to say the least, and a drop in the ocean against the wave of criticism.

The anti-social elements of Féile meant the town tired of the festival and it drifted away.

This year, a cohort of those who attended the event back then will be back - older and wiser. The flagons of cider will be replaced by glasses of Prosecco, the mosh pit swapped for seats.

And the return of the Trip to Tipp is very much born in the Premier County.

Féile Classical is the brainchild of promoters Paul Boland and Joe Clarke. The seeds for the return to Thurles were sown when Boland finished travelling across Europe with a show - Zelda Symphony of the Goddess - where the music of the popular video game was performed by a full orchestra to sold out arenas from Paris to Berlin. His Tipperary-based company CWB manages many of Ireland's top acts from Le Galaxie to The Blizzards and produces large scale shows around the world. Its recent productions include Kormac: Equivalent Exchange for the St Patrick's Festival, Fuerza Bruta for Limerick City of Culture and The Strypes US tour.

A chance conversation between Clarke and the Irish Chamber Orchestra's Gerry Keenan about combining an orchestra with some of the biggest Irish bands led to the conception of Féile Classical.

An approach to the Tipperary GAA County Board saw the idea take hold of using Semple Stadium in a whole new way. A list of bands was compiled and the line up went through numerous revisions to get it right.

The local support that came from the keepers of the Féile Flame on the Trip to Tipp Facebook nostalgia page affirmed the appetite.

The show was first announced on the Ian Dempsey breakfast show on Today FM and when tickets went on sale in April, they sold out in four minutes.

That night on the Late Late show Something Happens performed Georgia with a live String Quartet and a second show was announced.

Admittedly I'm biased in feeling Féile Classical is making a triumphant return to Thurles.

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