Thursday, 17 January 2019

A fading reminder of
the cultural glories of
the Wexford Festival

A poster that reminds me of Wexford’s quays and key landmarks (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I have a poster from the Wexford Festival hanging in the breakfast room in the house in Knocklyon. It is 25 years old at this stage and for the last quarter century has been fading in the sunlight that streams through the south side of the house.

Perhaps I should have moved this fading poster many years ago. But it is a pretty depiction of the quays in Wexford, and I can pick out many familiar landmarks that shape the skyline of Wexford town. And it is a reminder too of happy days when I lived in Wexford until I moved to Dublin 45 years ago at the end of 1974.

Someone once told me the Irish definition of where you are from is found in the answer to who you hope, despite all the odds, is going to win the next All-Ireland. It is a particular Irish understanding of identity and a sense of place.

I lived on High Street, across from both the offices of the Wexford People and the Theatre Royal, already over a century old at that time. In those days, the Festival specialised in unfamiliar operas and, as Michael Dervan recalled in The Irish Times yesterday [16 January 2018], it was known for its ‘decisiveness and daring.’

I have memories of going to sleep in the mid-1970s listening to the sound of rehearsals across the street, and waking to the prospect of enjoying the fringe programme or a morning service in Saint Iberius’s Church with participants from the opera.

Today, the theatre is a major national cultural centre, and the Wexford Festival Opera this week announced the appointment of Rosetta Cucchi, who will succeed David Agler as artistic director. She has a long connection with Wexford that dates back to 1995 – the year after that fading poster I still treasure.

I am back in Wexford today, for a short overnight stay, with hopes to walk along the Slaney Estuary at Ferrycarrig and to meet some friends for a few drinks or for dinner.

It was a long journey by two buses from Askeaton through Limerick and Kildare, and then a journey by car through Carlow, Bunclody and along the banks of the River Slaney, crossing the the river at Enniscorthy. Once I had arrived in Bunclody this afternoon, my bearings were realigned, and old loyalties and hopes were reignited. I am staying tonight in the Ferrycarrig Hotel, in a room with a view that looks across the estuary of the River Slaney, expecting to wake tomorrow morning to the sound not of opera rehersals but of birdlife on the river.

This afternoon, in one of the corridors of the hotel, among a large collection of posters from the Wexford Festival, I was that same poster from the 1994 festival. Unlike my poster in Knocklyon, however, it is not fading.

Perhaps I may keep that poster a little longer, continuing to harbour hope against hope for an All-Ireland win for Wexford.

In the corridors of the Ferrycarrig Hotel in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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