The Formative Years
In 1977, Ballyshannon played host to a Fleadh Cheoil (Music Festival) which attracted a large number of musicians and followers of music to the town for a weekend of music, song and dance. The following year, 1978, it was decided to organise a festival of Irish Folk and Traditional Music –Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival was born.
In its early years, the Ballyshannon Festival ran alongside those giant festivals in Lisdoonvarna and Ballisodare, unfortunately, many of these great festivals no longer exist, many having succumbed to financial difficulties. Ballyshannon, went on from strength to strength, growing each year in terms of revenue, atmosphere, educational aspects and facilities. The success of the festival, many felt, was attributed to it being organised on a non-commercial basis. Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival continued in the ‘tent’ with many successful years and all the leading names in the Irish Trad and Folk scene stepping up to the famous microphone in the Market Yard, names like Altan, Christy Moore, De Danann, Maura O’Connell, Dolores Keane, Sharon Shannon, the Black sisters Mary and Frances to name a few.
In the late 90’s and early 2000, numbers started to decease and the committee were concerned about the future of the festival and in 2004 the difficult decision was taken for the overall sustainability of the festival to move from the ‘tent’ in the Market Yard to the new home of the festival, the Abbey Centre at the top of the town. The decision at that time was greeted with mixed reaction but generally it was seen as positive in order to save the festival in the town.
From 2004 to 2016, the Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival continued each August bank holiday attracting full houses to the Abbey Centre enjoying the very best in traditional and folk music.
Past Experiences – Future Opportunities
40 years onwards and upwards
If past experiences are to tell us anything in relation to future opportunities, the quality of our festival is held in very high regard and its contribution to the local economy, to the local calendar of events and as an annual platform to encourage visitors to our area, both from different parts of Ireland and abroad are all very important aspects to our festival. However, the reduced ‘festival atmosphere’ was one which we felt we needed to address as we approached our 40th anniversary in order for us to enhance the visual aspect of the festival and to attract more visitors to the area.
So in 2017, for our 40th anniversary the decision was made to move back to our ‘roots’ by bringing the festival back to the Market Yard, to the ‘Marquee’ (or as locals call it ‘the tent’). Since then our festival has attracted a high number of visitors to our area based on the legacy and the brand that is Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival coupled with the added bonus of being situated on the Wild Atlantic Way which promotes our area globally.
2020 threw us a new curve ball – Covid-19 – but the local committee came up with a four day virtual festival to ensure that the festival’s unbroken run since 1978 continues, albeit in a new format.
The 43rd Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival took place from the 30th July to 2nd August 2020 as a virtual re-imagined festival. Our motto was the music never dies and the show must go on – so over that weekend we invited you to enjoy the very best of music in the company of some fantastic musicians and no matter where you were in the world we connected while staying apart.
Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival is the longest serving festival of its genre in the world coming to you from the oldest town in Ireland – Ballyshannon.