27 March 1997 Edition

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A new home for Féile

By Mick Naughton.

When internationally renowned singer Frances Black started to sing `Legal, Illegal' in the new festival offices of Féile an Phobail on the Falls Road last Tuesday it brought a wry smile to both Albert Reynolds and Gerry Adams; ``slightly subversive'' said one man.

Gerry was there to officially open Teach Féile, on a day which also celebrated 10 years of the famous West Belfast festival. Singers, community workers, unionist Roy Garland, street theatre artists, and a gaggle of diddle-dee musicians squeezed into the renovated terraced house at the top of the Donegall Road.

Squeezed, not because the building is small (anything but) but because of the huge crowd who wanted to be part of another Falls success story. It is after all the biggest community festival in Ireland, though the Northern Ireland Tourist Board chiefs in North Street haven't recognised that important fact yet.

Director of Feile, Caitriona Ruane told the guests that without the combined efforts of thousands of people ``in this and other communities, this historic day would not have happened.'' She made a special mention of architect Kevin Murray, who ``dared to be different, taking the time and energy to find out about Féile and work with us.'' This was a testimony to what everyone present acknowledged is a ``wild and and wonderful colour scheme.''

Caitriona also mentioned Siobhan O'Hanlon, ``without whom these premises would never be opened.'' She described her as being, ``like a dog with a bone that won't let go.''

Gerry Adams, obviously in good form despite the affairs of office (and the odd election) weighing on him, smiled broadly at this description of the fearless Siobhan. He said that everyone involved over the past ten years had turned around the internment anniversary from being used as a plastic bullet training ground for the Brits to a period in August where there was something for everyone, with the exception of those in the uniform of the crown carrying guns.

Ten years ago the community was villified, labelled, attacked and jailed, heavy censorship was operating and the leadership of the community was not recognised. Things now move forward and as a commemorative plaque made by republican prisoners in Long Kesh was unveiled by Gerry, he asked Frances to give a rendition of her song.

100,000 people were attracted to the Feile last year and this year's events look set to increase these numbers with Frances, the Fureys, Dominic Kerwin and the Angela Feeney Bursary Concert all confirmed.

So a big thanks to big Jack and Paddy in Making Belfast Work, the European Partnership Board and to ADAPT, for disability access and as Caitriona so aptly quoted from Shane Connaughton who was among Tuesday mornings throng: ``The one festival with real meaning, a celebration of a place by a people who know the political abyss and have decided not to sob but to sing. Here's to the next 10 years and add a nought to that!''

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1