Bantry festivals on year-round roll

June 30th, 2019 6:25 PM

By Southern Star Team

Flautist Mary-Ellen Nagle with Annie McCarthy, Sara Cahalane, Denis Cahalane and Tom McCarthy, Clonakilty, at the launch of the West Cork Chamber Music Festival.

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It's now 24 years since the first West Cork Chamber Music Festival enticed and attracted world-class musicians to come and play at a little town at the end of Bantry Bay.



IT’S now 24 years since the first West Cork Chamber Music Festival enticed and attracted world-class musicians to come and play at a little town at the end of Bantry Bay.

Today the festival has grown from a one week-long music festival into three separate events that are spoken about and admired across the globe.

They are the Chamber Music Festival which starts this weekend, the Literary Festival (July 12th-19th) and Masters of Tradition (August 21st to 25th).

However, as the years have rolled by and the festival season has grown in both size and scope what does it take to ensure an experience that brings people back to Bantry each year?

 ‘The planning never stops,’ Eimear O’Herlihy, director of the literary festival told The Southern Star.

 ‘We are already booking writers for next year and, when one festival ends, we are already preparing for the next with most of our speakers and writers already booked.

 ‘And because we want to expose people to new writers and new publications it’s become a balancing act to ensure new as well as the more established writers head for Bantry each year.’

This ‘rolling plan’ or constantly moving state of preparing for the next set of festivals, has created full-time employment for nine people.

 ‘It doesn’t feel like 24 years,’ Francis Humphrys, CEO of the West Cork Chamber Music Festival (WCCM) said.

‘We have set up a system where we are planning our programming at least two years ahead, to ensure that we have top-class performers, be they musicians or writers.’ 

‘As it is now all three festivals, the Chamber Music, the West Cork Literary and the Masters of Tradition festivals attract well over 4,000 people to Bantry every year.’

In fact, in 2018, all three festivals were responsible for almost 5,000 visitors to Bantry, over €200,000 in ticket sales and was responsible for an injection of almost €3 million into the local economy.

‘During the festivals, the population of Bantry doubles,’ Francis continued. 

‘We have top class musicians who come to Bantry for the first time, play with other musicians who they might never get to play with as they travel around the international concert circuit and, when they leave, they want to come back again. Indeed, Bantry has been the inspiration for many other festivals round Europe.’

Back, after the early success of the Chamber Music Festival, Francis was approached by many local writers and literary fans who felt that now the time was right to host an event promoting the literary arts.

 ‘After the first Chamber Festival in 1995, I never imagined that we would today be hosting three festivals that continue to be so popular,’ Francis said.  

‘In 1999, we held the first West Cork Literary Festival and one of our first guest readers was Seamus Heaney. Today we have internationally-renowned writers and poets coming to Bantry every summer.’

However, the first step as all three festivals close on another year in Bantry is to secure funding for the year ahead.

Sara O’Donovan, marketing manager of WCM and manager of West Cork Literary Festival said: ‘We have a core administration that looks after the day-to -day running of the festivals that is everything from ensuring that we have the accommodation for the artists under control, the brochures and website up-to-date to of course funding applications and all that entails,’.

While the rock stars of the classical and the traditional music world love to come to Bantry every year, the Literary Festival has seen major novelists and poets, as well as the stars of stage and screen, and even politicians descend on town year after year.

All three festivals also put a major emphasis on providing a chance to learn from the best of the best with workshops and masterclasses.

 ‘Bantry has become a by-word in the chamber music world,’ Francis said.

 ‘While the Literary Festival continues to attract world-class writers and poets, the Masters of Tradition brings the very best musicians together from all corners of Ireland and beyond to Bantry.’

The West Cork Chamber Music Festival begins this weekend from Friday, June 28th, to Sunday, July 7th. 

For more information on all three festivals, events and tickets, log on to or call 027-52788. 

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