Ballymena Festival seeks public input to centenary celebrations

Festival competitors, Braidwater Mill workers of 1939. (Submitted Picture).
Festival competitors, Braidwater Mill workers of 1939. (Submitted Picture).

Did you know that a famous tenor was discovered at Ballymena Festival? Or, that it used to hold competitions for church organists?

Have you ever heard about the intense rivalry amongst the Mill and factory choirs as they competed against each other for cup success?

Festival discovery- Tenor James Johnston. (Submitted Picture).

Festival discovery- Tenor James Johnston. (Submitted Picture).

There’s quite a bit of history to the renowned local Festival of Music, Speech, and Dance which will be celebrated and commemorated next year when its centenary will be marked in February.

Thanks to financial support from the ‘Sharing Heritage’ programme of the Heritage Lottery Fund, preparations are now under way to ensure that the history of the event is well recorded and widely shared with the people of the town.

Back in May, 1916, the Festival lasted only two days and consisted of competitions in piano and vocal music. One hundred years on and the 2016 Festival will see performers from near and far taking part in a wide variety of disciplines and competitions will span five weeks.

It has become a settled part of the cultural calendar of Ballymena and many people will have fond memories of taking part in ‘the Feis’.

The organisers are keen to hear about those special memories and anecdotes and also want to see the treasured keepsakes which may have been stored away, perhaps in attics or lofts.

For instance, do you know of any original photographs relating to the Festival; perhaps of grandparents taking part as youngsters in a school choir? Or, do you have a stash of old programmes?

Perhaps you won a special prize in traditional dance and you still have the costume you wore?

If you have any interesting pieces of memorabilia or anecdotes that you want to share, then please contact Ashleigh Kirkpatrick via email at ashkirkpatrick@hotmail.co.uk or by calling 0747 9941688.

A freeland professional archivist, Ashleigh is being employed by the Festival to conduct research into its history.

The plan is to incorporate the stories, photographs and memorabilia into a commemorative book and also to display the artefacts in a special museum exhibition in the Braid.

A spokesperson pointed out to potential contributors that any mementoes will be looked after carefully and will be returned once the exhibition closes.