It began as a one day event in the 1980’s, progressed to a weekend and now extends to eight days and seven nights of music, culture and craic. With up to 200 events the festival caters for music fanatics, families who wish to enjoy a safe, child focused festival, and those who come just to soak up the scenery, the friendliness and the free outdoor music. Fiddlers Green has become one of Ireland’s longest running and most successful festivals.
The festival includes a number of highlights each year including:
The Festival Folk Club, nightly in St. Bronagh’s SC, hosts a line-up of internationally acclaimed artists
The Acoustic Stage in An Cuan every afternoon features a mixture of local up and coming performers and major established artists.
The Lunchtime Folk Club is a small intimate venue with top quality singers and musicians.
The Open Air Stage offers free entertainment throughout the week including concerts, workshops, a daily open-air session for all musicians and Ceili dancing.
There is a Traditional Music School with top players offering classes on various instruments.
Children are well catered for with a full programme of children’s events.
‘The Town of Rostrevor’, by the late folk singer Tommy Makem, is sung from the point of view of a soldier from the County Down village who didn’t much like being in the army, despite his initial excitement about wearing a ‘fine coat of scarlet’ and carrying a musket. Ultimately, he serves his time and can’t wait to get back, to ‘stay there forever, in the town of Rostrevor with the girl I do adore’.
Makem’s inspiration was clearly not real-life soldier Major General Ross, who hailed from Rostrevor. Ross fought in the American War of 1812 and ordered his troops to burn to the ground both the White House and the Capitol in Washington, DC. Instead of a song, a rather fine obelisk on the road just outside of Rostrevor on the Warrenpoint side of town stands as a monument to this famous, if almost forgotten, son.
Other notable names connected to this usually sleepy village include Ben Dunne, founder of Dunnes Stores, former Irish President Mary McAleese and the pop-star-turned-politician Dana. Current residents of the village include members of the Sands Family Folk Group: Tommy, Colum and Anne.
This neatly connects back to Tommy Makem, as he is credited with discovering the Mayobridge-born family troupe and bringing them to America for their first international exposure to the Irish music scene.
And ‘international’ has been the word in Rostrevor for the past 30-years come the end of July, as the population swells by several hundreds of visitors, many from across Europe, America, England and Scotland.
Their reason for making what can legitimately be called a pilgrimage to the shores of Carlingford Lough each summer is the Fiddler’s Green International Festival. Quite a few of these visitors have been coming for years and years – making them, in the eyes of the locals, almost like family.
The festival began, as it has continued, from inside the community. There is no sense of a big, promoter-ridden event being imposed on the place. The programme traditionally includes a duck derby, for heaven’s sake, and very popular it has been, too.
There are art exhibitions, coffee mornings and a ‘dander’ up to Fiddler’s Green, an actual place on the mountainside above the village. That event, always occurring on the first official day of the festival, defines in many ways what this festival has that many others lack: a true sense of place.
Percy French might have had Newcastle, County Down, in his mind when he wrote the immortal lines ‘where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea’, but the heart of the song sits easily in the mountain-sheltered, sea-edged environment that Rostrevor village so gracefully inhabits.
It is a place apart; different from the nearby city of Newry or even Warrenpoint, which are both much larger and somehow more ambitious places. The Rostrevor festival, however, punches well above its weight, in terms of the artists it attracts and the international visitors who plan their yearly holidays around this week.