Monday 18 December 2017

When the West was awake . . . a weekend festival ticket cost just £3, and the pints were 45p

Fiona Ellis

IT was 30 years ago last weekend that world famous Rock 'n' Roller Chuck Berry turned up in a field in the West to grace the stage at a pioneering music festival.

Brothers Philip and Kevin Flynn from Collooney, Co Sligo, were the creators of Ireland's answer to Glastonbury when they founded the Boys of Ballisodare Festival in 1977.

The three-day weekender, which used the tented village concept for the first time, ran from then until 1982. The inaugural event featured an all-Irish line-up, playing to just 4,000 hardy souls in the village, but before its end the festival saw its audience grow to over 20,000 and hosted international stars like Donovan and Chuck Berry.


Now the organisers have set up a Facebook page to allow nostalgic festival-goers to reminisce about the good old days. Music enthusiasts Philip and Kevin were just 25 and 32 when they took the plunge.

The pair had been immersed in the music scene for some years, and as their experience grew the brothers began to consider setting up an Irish version of the hugely popular Newport Folk Festival, which took place in Rhode Island in the US, and the Cambridge Folk Festival in the UK.

They hired the festival site from Brian Fitzpatrick, proprietor of the Thatch Pub in Ballisodare village. "We started from a blank piece of paper and a green field," Philip said. "Then we had to figure out how we were going to cater for the few thousand we thought would come."

The pair booked all-Irish acts the first year. The Bothy Band headlined. Clannad, De Danann, Andy Irvine and Paul Brady and Christy Moore also played to the dedicated crowd.

It was a resounding success. A weekend ticket cost just £3 and a pint at the time cost 45p. The pair expected some 2,000 revellers but more than twice that turned up.

"It absolutely exceeded our expectations. The atmosphere was wonderful," Mr Flynn said.

As word spread, interest mushroomed. The second year, the same year Lisdoonvarna started, the festival doubled in size to 9,000; the following year 14,000 turned up; and in 1980 some 20,000 people attended.

"There was a lot of activity in the West. The West was really wide awake. It was an exciting time," Mr Flynn said.

Singer-songwriter Paul Brady played at the pioneering festival for many years.

"It was very exciting and a bit of an unknown quantity. We were all in it together in a way. We were all trying to see if we could make it work. There was a pioneering spirit to it which was very exciting, particularity when it did work."

Brady said the locals didn't know what hit them the first year. "Some of the locals were horrified at the fact that people were skinny dipping in the river and that a horde of hippies was descending on the town, but by and large people thought it was great."

Through the years, the musical programme evolved from purely folk and trad to include blues, jazz, bluegrass, reggae and rock 'n roll. In 1980, Donovan played, and in 1981 Chuck Berry drew in the crowds.

Mr Flynn's musical interested has continued to this day. He is now the CEO of Digital Hub in Dublin and sits on the voluntary board for Sligo Live music festival, which takes place on the October holiday weekend.

Irish Independent

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