Banjo festival financial boost for Tullamore

news that the world renowned Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival is to re-locate to Tullamore was greeted with delight in the town last week especially as no festival was held last year.

news that the world renowned Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival is to re-locate to Tullamore was greeted with delight in the town last week especially as no festival was held last year.

The festival had been held in Longford for the past ten years and the decision to move to Tullamore was made to facilitate the growth and expansion of the festival.

Organiser Kathy Casey explained last week that Longford could no longer sustain the growing festival and that the decision to re-locate to Tullamore was made because of the town’s record with Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann, the wider accommodation options, its central location and easy access.

Tullamore Town Councillor Brendan Killeavy welcomed the announcement “this is great news for Tullamore and it’s exactly what’s needed in town. The festival will have the potential to inject €1 million into our local economy which is great news for local business and local people. Tullamore had no festival last year which I thought was a mistake, we have great potential in the town to develop a major annual festival that could put Tullamore firmly on the map for visitors and to show that the town is alive and kicking.”

The Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival will take place from September 20 to September 23. A committee is being set up to co-ordinate the event at local level. As well as concerts the festival will include workshops, pub sessions and free music performances.

The Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival started in Longford back in 2002, following the death of legendary banjo player Johnny Keenan. A tribute concert to mark Johnny’s passing in 2000 was held in Vicar Street, Dublin and it was then decided to hold a festival in Longford, where Johnny and his wife Chris had set up home.

In the ten years that followed, some of the biggest names in bluegrass, Irish traditional and folk music played at the festival including Steve Earle, Gerry O’Connor, Guy Clark, Peter Rowan, Tony Trischka, Altan, Rodney Crowell, Iris DeMent, Thom Moore and the legendary Earl Scruggs, the musician noted for perfecting and popularizing a three-finger banjo-picking style that is a defining characteristic of bluegrass music.

Celebrating its tenth year in Longford town last September, there had been doubts raised about the festival in the weeks that followed. Those doubts were confirmed when the organisers, Kathy Casey and Chris Keenan, said last October that no decision had been made about whether the festival would return to Longford in 2012.

Those fears were realised in a statement last week when it was announced that the festival would no longer take place in Longford. One of the main reasons behind their decision to relocate to Tullamore was the financial support. “It is with regret that the festival can no longer be financially sustained within the town,” said the statement from the organising committee.

The statement continued, “The move marks the end of a decade of national/international music and visitors from all over the world to Longford each September. We hope that the people of Longford have enjoyed the festival as much as we have enjoyed sharing it with them.

Rumours about the future of the festival surfaced in the lead up to last year’s event, and it’s believed that other towns, like Cavan and Mullingar, were considered as possible locations for the event before Tullamore was eventually decided upon.

The news of its relocation to Co Offaly was a major blow to Longford town and the surrounds. The event, in its ten-year history, generated several millions for the local economy.

Cllr Killeavy was especially delighted at the news of the festival which he hopes will act as a springboard for a major homecoming festival to attract people who emigrated to return home for a holiday.

“With the right marketing campaign and a buy-in from the people, business people, our councils and other interested parties we can try and turn things around in our town and county and make this a success, no one else will do it for us only we ourselves,” added Cllr Killeavy.