Ballymena to host ‘Gatherin’ of the Isles’ in April

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Ballymena councillors have agreed to spend £35,000 to hold an event in April celebrating the borough’s piping tradition.

‘The Gathering of the Isles’ will, according to the local authority, be the first festival of its kind in Northern Ireland and will encompass all traditions from across the islands of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, “to celebrate culture and tradition in an inclusive way”.

To be held over three days towards the end of April in various venues throughout the borough the festival will have the potential to maximise opportunities for cultural and tourism development in Ballymena, councillors heard at the January monthly meeting, last Monday night.

They had first considered a proposal for the festival back in October when it emerged that the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association for Northern Ireland (RSPBANI) were keen to hold an event locally.

In a report to Council last week, Deputy Chief Executive Rodger McKnight recommended that ‘The Gatherin’’would be run as a pilot project to determine the capacity to support such a festival on an annual basis.

Overall responsibility for its management and co-ordination, councillors were told, will rest with a Steering Committee made up of Council officers, an elected member (Cllr Tommy Nicholl) and members of RSPBANI.

They went on to agree an officer recommendation, on the proposal of Cllr Nicholl, that other councillors interested in serving on the committee would have the option of doing so and that a budget of up to £35,000 be approved for the pilot festival.

Other external funding and sponsorship will also be sought for the delivery of the project which looks set to be held from April 24-26.

Stalwart supporter of Pipe Bands and the piping tradition, Cllr Nicholl said: “I’m delighted we have got to this stage.

“We have had a number of meetings and we have a very good working team in place and everybody is very excited about what is being planned.

“We’re hoping to have some top rate entertainment and we’re keen to have this a totally inclusive event right across the divide and we think we have succeeded in this.

“This (pilot) will determine whether we can look further on an annual basis,” he said.