Mon Jul 21 2014
Samantha Magee Miramichi Leader
The Irish have the luck, it seems, as this weekend’s 31st annual Canada’s Irish Festival on the Miramichi has gone off without a hitch, despite the gamble organizers took to have the majority of the events outdoors.
Paddy Quinn, a co-president alongside Tracey (Chopper) Robinson, told the Miramichi Leader he was glad the decision to change things up, in a effort to revitalize the festival, paid off.
“All in all, a dandy weekend for the festival and I firmly believe we breathed new life in to the festival and proved those who thought we were going to kill the festival wrong,” Quinn said. “As I mentioned in my opening remarks on Friday, I was told by someone face-to-face that if we took the festival downtown it would the last festival ever and that drove me to make it succeed and the proof is in the attendance.”
During Friday’s opening ceremonies Quinn also thanked the City of Miramichi for their assistance and for all of the hard work done by committee members and volunteers.
“Thanks to those who believed in our changes and new format. I knew we were going to go big during the show Thursday. I literally could feel it shift in our favour,” said Quinn. “Friday was as big a Friday as I can recall and then Saturday blew up.”
Quinn also said a personal highlight of the weekend for him, was seeing Ennis, formerly the Ennis sisters, play at St. Michael’s Basilica on Saturday night.
“It turned out to be a great show in a beautiful venue and there is huge potential there (for concerts) in the future.”
The festival ran from July 17 to July 20.
Traditionally, the live entertainment and pub portion of the festival has been held at the Lord Beaverbrook Arena and in a previous interview with the Miramichi Leader, Quinn said he believed that venue was not the best choice and was a contributing factor to declining attendance at the festival.
Another change that was made this year was a reduction in the cost of admission to the pub and concert portion of the evening.
“Once upon a time tickets for the evening pub were $17, so a couple will spend $34 before they’re even in the gate,” Quinn said. “In 2014, people have no interest in that, so because our numbers have declined in recent years, we’re going to make it as affordable, as economical and fan-friendly as possible.”
Mavis Williamson, general manager of DowntownS Miramichi, said these strategies seem to have paid off, from an economic development point of view.
“The pricing of the tickets and all the events offered throughout the day (has helped) and the weather has been just wonderful,” she said.
Williamson said with the variety of entertainment there was something for everyone.
“It’s embracing your culture and celebrating who you are and it’s fun, that’s how it should be. You want them to be engaged in their culture and its nice we could do that in the downtown area.”
She said she had spoken with numerous businesses in Historic Downtown Chatham and in the surrounding area, who have said they have benefited from all the increased foot traffic in the area, especially on Water Street.
“The volume of people has increased… It really seems to have brought lots of benefits and it appears to have worked out very well for the Irish festival too.”
Charlie Allan attended the festival with his friends, who were all sporting kilts.
He said although kilts are usually more popular at Scottish events, there certainly were Irish tartans and he was wearing one to represent his mother’s clan on Friday night.
“I just like and endorse all aspects of Celtic culture,” he said.
During the opening ceremonies, just before the green, orange and white ribbon was cut, various dignitaries and festival organizers made brief speeches and welcomed Miramichi residents and tourists.
Mayor Gerry Cormier reminded the crowd of the affect the festival actually has in Canada and in other countries.
“This is very big,” said Cormier, “This festival is known all over, even by people from Ireland and sometimes we take that for granted.”
Quinn also took some time to thank the volunteers for their dedicated work, saying their efforts did not go unappreciated.
He also said why the committee decided to hold the events outdoors, a decision made in October, in the hopes of revitalizing the aging festival.
“There really was no plan B, truth be told. It was a bit of gamble but we felt at the time there needed to be a change of direction and the City of Miramichi never once said no, I was told I was crazy but I never once heard the word no.”
Quinn then assured the crowd that there would certainly be a 32nd Canada’s Irish Festival on the Miramichi, next year and a 33rd and a 34th.
Quinn also welcomed visitors from out of town saying he had met tourists for as far as Croatia, Australia and Austria and he thanked them for coming.
Mike Hill, president of the Miramichi Chamber of Commerce and the director of programing for St. Thomas University, said the festival helps promote economic development as well as enriching the cultural mosaic of Miramichi.
“It’s a great place to come and visit and a great place to grow and prosper.”
After opening remarks, Friday night the Nelson Doyle Dancers took the stage, followed by the band McGinty, then the Durty Nellys which had crowds, decked out in green, dancing until the end of their set.