CLONAKILTY has its own mayor but Bantry has, in Mary Hegarty, its own unofficial ambassador.
A Fine Gael councillor, Mary is always front and centre when it comes to promoting the town. She is the first on her feet at public meetings and presentations to praise Bantry’s many natural amenities, its warm and welcoming community, and its numerous cultural attractions.
Since 2007, Mary has been a member of the board of West Cork Music, an organisation that hosts three of the finest festivals that West Cork has to offer. She is also a member of the governing body of CIT’s arts committee, and, just four months ago, she was appointed to the board of the Crawford Gallery.
West Cork’s Chamber Music Festival, Literary Festival and Masters of Tradition are worth in excess of €3m to Bantry’s local economy, and they help to sustain eight full-time jobs, as well as creating a wealth of indirect employment.
This year, there are 72 events during the West Cork Chamber Music Festival – an event which resulted in the sale of more than 7,800 tickets in 2015, with more than 13,500 tickets sold overall for the three events.
Work on the three festivals is a year-round labour of love, but the actual calendar of events begins with the Chamber Music Festival, which starts on July 1st with a spectacular opening concert featuring the first of two 1916 commissions.
The festival, which runs until Saturday, July 9th, offers an incredible programme of concerts and events.
It begins with the 10am ‘morning talks’ with Evelyn Grant of Lyric FM; masterclasses, which see old masters teaching some of the world’s finest young musicians; and the 11am coffee concerts that provide a sweet, uplifting start to the day.
The fact that there are afternoon, evening and late-night concerts every day throughout the nine-day festival will give people an indication of the insatiable appetite of the music lovers who travel to Bantry specifically every year. It is world-class music by world-class musicians – all of which means the festival has justifiably earned the reputation of being the best small music festival in the world.
As Mary Hegarty pointed out: ‘Its reach goes beyond Bantry, West Cork, and even Ireland. It has an international following thanks to the support of Lyric FM and the European Broadcasting Union, who transmit to almost 50m listeners all over the world. I think here in Bantry we are a great example of how best to promote the performing arts and culture in rural areas.’
Catering to all tastes is one of the reasons for the Bantry success.
‘It was obvious from the immediate appeal of the sister-festival, the West Cork Literary Festival, that there was scope for a separate and distinct programme of events,’ says Mary.
‘The literary festival has always had a legion of followers – people who travel to Bantry for the seven-day event because they can immerse themselves in literature at every turn.
‘For years, both the Chamber Music Festival and the Literary Festival were run back-to-back, but it was so action-packed, that decided to put a week’s breathing space between the two.
‘Between the ornate and magical setting of Bantry House for the main evening events, and the more up-close and personal concerts held in St Brendan’s Church at Wolfe Tone Square, the Chamber Music Festival has something for everyone.
‘The extensive programme during the Literary Festival will have you up and out of your bed and at your writing desk by 9.30am if you are attending one of the weeklong workshops and keep you going until the ‘open mic’ readings that start at 10.30pm and go on long beyond a time that is decent.’
On top of all this is the yearly Masters of Tradition Festival, which will start this year on Wednesday, August 17th, in Bantry.