Magnificent Parade marks Birr Vintage Week's 50th anniversary

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Magnificent Parade marks Birr Vintage Week's 50th anniversary thumbnailKieran Garahy, Fortal driving an 1917 Titan 10/20 tractor in the 50th Anniversary Parade of Birr Vintage Week & Arts Festival on Sunday last.

A magnificent parade marking the 50th anniversary of Birr Vintage Week and Arts Festival was enjoyed by thousands of spectators in the town on Sunday afternoon last.
The Parade lasted much longer than usual, with many people obviously feeling that they should make the effort to participate in this special occasion.
President Michael D Higgins was the official opener of the festival and this obviously very popular man was given a number of warm rounds of applause by the crowd during the afternoon.
The Parade began with the Presidential Salute before the Viewing Stand in Emmet Square, performed by the Crumlin Community Youth Band.
Co-Chairperson of the Vintage Week Committee Janine Wilson welcomed everyone, including the members of our diaspora, to the parade on a beautiful August afternoon. She said it is always marvellous to see so many families and friends, including many Birr "ex-pats", out and about around the town enjoying themselves during the festival. She said Birr is a unique and exceptional town which has a wonderful reputation nationally and internationally.
Janine warmly welcomed President Higgins and said the town felt greatly privileged to have him present.
President Higgins thanked the committee for inviting him to launch the 50th festival. He said he met some of the members of the first committees from the late '60s and early '70s. "I want to pay tribute to their vision, foresight and imagination for establishing this festival. People like them are like gems in our communities. Some of those founding members thought it might last only a few years. That is something which committees often say. But here it is, still thriving, 50 years later; a testament to what a fine festival it is and how dear it is to the hearts of the local community. In the late 1960s Birr had a good foundation to build upon because the Birr Agricultural Show had been a successful event for a number of years. Upon that foundation was added the hard work and energy of an excellent committee."
He said Birr Vintage Week has a suitably excellent programme for its 50th anniversary, "encompassing nearly every aspect of the arts." He said Birr's future is looking bright and has many enticing features including its science, its ecology and its heritage.
As he spoke planes from Birr Airfield flew over the square, a fine sight and drawing admiration from the crowd. The noise was such that the President had to briefly stop speaking. "And that was only the practice run!" he joked.
He pointed out that he speaks Irish nearly every day and the important Bliain na Gaeilge is being held this year. He said it is heartening to see many people trying to learn and speak Irish. He said that for many Irish people Irish is a very important thing, a vital part of our heritage.
"Birr of course has a heritage which is second to none, including an intriguing legal heritage because the groundbreaking Law of the Innocents was promulgated here at a Synod in 697. The town is also famous for its elegant 19th Century buildings and for its contributions to Science.
"In Ireland we often celebrate our literary heritage, and rightly so, but we also have a very significant scientific heritage which includes the Leviathan telescope in Birr Castle and the important role which Mary Parsons played in the history of photography. And now in our own time, that splendid tradition is being carried on by the existence of the radio telescope here in Birr."
The President also joked that Sunday's hurling semi-final between Clare and Galway was "a matter of some turbulence to me" because he has of course strong connections with both counties. He added that Birr has a special hurling heritage, including the great success of its club and the fact that the first All Ireland Final was played in the town in April 1888.
He added that Vintage Week was "a unique concept" in 1968, because it was during a time when there wasn't the general respect for old buildings and for Georgian architecture which there is now. "The Arts Festival element was added some years ago and it proved an excellent idea. Now artists from all over Ireland want to participate in the festival."
He said the programme is a rich one "featuring a whole galaxy of artists performing in the town over the ten days of the festival."
He recalled the Oxmantown Hall restoration campaign in the 1990s, pointing out that Birr Theatre & Arts Centre has been a massive success and plays a very important role in the town's life.
"The parade today will feature cars, bicycles, street theatre, floats, marching bands. You know sometimes I think that someone should write about the role played by the bicycle in our nation's historical and contemporary narrative.
"Festivals like Birr Vintage Week are about the best things in our communities. They are about solidarity, co-operation, inclusion, imagination. They enhance our public spaces, bringing us together in our public spaces for colourful, enjoyable and artistic events. You know, I think using and mingling in our public spaces in such a positive way is very important and it will provide very important memories and lessons for our future generations, who will realise they will have to continue these fine traditions, who will realise that community spirit and volunteerism are hugely important.
"The people of rural Ireland have of course faced huge challenges in recent years, but I am confident that the people of rural Ireland are a marvellous and resilient people and will achieve the things they want to achieve and will have the capacity to overcome any challenges ahead.
"We use the word 'challenges' a lot in our public discourse but we also use the words 'celebrate' and 'celebration' a lot. Today there is much to celebrate. There is the celebration of this beautiful town, of our heritage, of the artistic spirit, of community spirit, and of the golden jubilee of this fine festival. May it prosper for another 50 years."
Hazel Greene of the Vintage Week Committee then made a presentation of a picture to the President which he held aloft to the crowd to the sound of applause.
MC Mary Larkin then took over and thanked the President for his very kind words. She said the town looks very well and she praised Birr Tidy Towns for its sterling work. She pointed out that "The Lord has once again blessed our Parade with a beautiful day." She recalled what 1968 was like. "It was the year Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. It was the first human spaceflight that escaped Earth's influence. The price of a pint was two shillings and six pence which is 20 cents in today's money. A stamp was five old pence. A telegram cost five shillings to send. A morris minor, new, cost 600 pounds."
Leading the Parade was the Crumlin Youth Band who have attended the last five parades. They were followed by Joe and Charlie Cavanagh's magnificent steam engine, whose whistle sound and steam is synonymous with the festival.
They were followed by a very fine equestrian display organised by, among others, Donal Boyd and Noel Cosgrave.
Dan Coolahan has been the owner of a fleet of impressive vintage vehicles for many years and displays them every Vintage Week Parade. Several of his vehicles were on display once again dating from the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s and an army truck from 1916.
Patrick O'Brien and Rod the Singing Dog cycled by on a 1923 butcher's bike.
Birr Rugby Club filed by including a number of its stars holding the Pro 14 and Champions Cup trophies.
Three beautifully maintained fire engines belonging to Birr Fire Brigade drove by. The Brigade was founded in 1910.
They were followed by: South Offaly Special Olympics Club; Martin Carroll and Amber King as Lord and Lady of the Manor ("looking beautiful"); Clara Town Band; The Black Bull Threshing Festival Float (the threshing festival takes place on August 26, and its proceeds will go towards installing CCTVs in the Coolderry area); Joshua Kelly as Batman ("keeping Birr safe for the President"); Birr Athletics Club; Sorcha and Clodagh Brady driving a tiny landrover; Street theatre from the Workhouse Arts Group and Marie Brady; Joe Malone's 1936 Rolls Royce; Camcor Rivers Birr (who have raised 90,000 over the last few years for local charities); Enda Egan on his Honda 50 bike; Aidan Deasy in his 1970 Ford Capri; Connie Thompson driving a 1980 cream rolls royce; Hakuna Matata acrobats from Cork; Tony Thunder, magician; Fanfare Piston from Lyon (who have attended the festival several times); Joseph Cleary on a tractor which used to deliver milk in the Blueball area; Borrisokane Vintage Club with a display of vintage agricultural implements; Cian and Aine Dunican on 1940s bicycles; Declan McCann from Clonaslee in a 1915 Model T Ford; Joseph O'Neill in a 1950 Austin Devon; Patrick Cahill from Portlaoise in a 1952 Ford Anglia; Dance it out Ireland, from Portumna, who performed a Hip Hop dance; Michael Naylor on a 1975 motorbike which was popular with British police forces and used to be known as the Noddy; The Birr Tidy Towns float which focussed on 19th Century Birr, including Birr Workhouse and the contrast between the poor and the well-to-do; The Sionn Mhara sailing boat from Banagher (which is looking for new crew members to compete around Ireland); Clonmel Youth Marching Band; Tom Garahy on a 1940 ex army motorbike; The oldest hippies in town in their van on the way to Electric Picnic, with their motto "growing old disgracefully".
Driving slowly in the parade can be very hard on the engines of old cars and three cars overheated during the parade and had to be pulled by tractors.
Other participants included: Birr Community Nursing Unit float celebrating the 100th anniversary of women being allowed to vote; Robert Young from Clonaslee in a 1985 mini; Ciaran O'Conor from Ferbane in a 1978 Mercedes; Birr GAA Club with some very young players who will hopefully one day bring back silverware to the club; Emer and Ann Hanley with prams over a hundred years old; Shannonside sub aqua club; The Birr Wilmer Tennis Club float; The Absurdist Pipe Band; Artastic from Kildare.
At the conclusion of the parade the MC thanked the stewards who had worked very hard and had successfully marshalled the event. She also thanked and congratulated the Parade Co-Ordinator Orla Watkins.


Subscribe to read full newspaper »

Send to a friend

Please complete the following form to inform a friend about this page.

In order to process your information we must ask you to enter the letters in the image into the box:

CAPTCHA Image play audio version Reload Image

* Mandatory field - please complete