Friday 19 April 2019

Choral festival on song for 30th year of event

International choral festival celebrates landmark year

Ciara Galvin

Yeats' County will be alive with the sound of choral music from November 16th to 18th as the annual Sligo International Choral Festival comes to town.

This year will be an extra special festival for all involved as it marks the 30th anniversary of the festival's establishment.

From humble beginnings and committment from a handful of volunteers, the festival is now a firm favourite for choirs across Ireland and Europe.

Over the years the festival has played host to choirs across 20 countries, including Russia, Ukraine and Hungary, putting Sligo on the map as a cultural tourism destination.

Recounting those early days of the festival, former chairman Joe Kelly tells The Sligo Champion that they were special times getting it off the ground.

Founded in 1988 by businessman John Ryan with a view to having the only choral festival in the country held in the autumn, the festival was seen as a way of bringing people to Sligo in November to do some early Christmas shopping.

"We started off the festival that year with a one day event in the old Summerhill College in Fr Flanagan Hall and we had three competitions, with 12 Irish choirs.

"We raised about 1,000 pounds for the prize money. In recent years, we had 62 choirs from countries all over Europe. The festival has grown immeasurably," notes Mr Kelly.


Over the 30 year run there has been some dramatic and colourful events taking place, with Joe citing a group posing as a real choir being one of the most memorable incidents.

"We had a group posing as a real choir, from Romania, probably in the mid to late 90s.

"They were intercepted at Dublin Airport.

"They complied with all the rules but they were sent packing back to Romania.

"Five years later the real choir came and competed and enjoyed their time in Sligo," Joe explains.

Joe says the choirs' public performances around Sligo are 'fantastic' and allows the people of Sligo to enjoy the array of talent that descends on the city each year.

From former president Mary Robinson, to English humanitarian and author Terry Waite, Joe says many public figures have attended the festival throughout the years, but adds that for it to continue to prosper it requires the support of the community.

"There's a great bunch of people on the new committee and I'm absolutely confident that it will be passed on to the next generation," concludes Kelly.

Sligo Champion