It was standing room only in Mitchell’s pub Legan for the recent launch of the Patsy Farrell Festival which celebrates Irish music, song and dance in Longford – Westmeath from August 1st-8th. Patsy grew up in Legan before emigrating to London and then retired there before his untimely death ten years ago. He was a well known balladeer and song writer. Some of his songs including Where The Three Counties Meet, Abbeyshrule and Christmas Time in Ireland, which were major hits in the seventies for Brendan Shine and Foster and Allen.
The night began with The Trad Lads, Conor Guirke, flute; Kieran Guirke, tin whistle; Luke Price, bodhran; Frank Tighe, accordion and Paddy Farrell, banjo playing a selection of tunes. Committee secretary Anna Kavanagh then introduced three guests who spoke about the life and times of Patsy Farrell. Elizabeth Fahy (Nee Moran) went to school with him and she explained how his song Abbeyshrule describes perfectly what it was like to live in rural Ireland in the thirties and forties.
Like Patsy, she emigrated to London and described how he gave a voice to the Irish emigrant in the days before mobile phones, the internet and skype. His songs played in the dance halls around London where the Irish congregated and made them feel as if they were back home. Then with great passion she spoke about the modern day scourge of emigration and while Patsy’s songs went out of fashion in the Celtic Tiger era, the irony is that once again they have a newfound relevance and will no doubt become popular once again among this present generation of emigrants as they pine for home in far-away lands.
She concluded that Patsy Farrell wasn’t just a songwriter, he was a poet whose poems happened to be recorded as songs and as a writer he is up there with the other great Longford poets like Padraig Colum.
Hugh Farrell, a nephew of Patsy, described how he has a considerable archive of material relating to Patsy, including work that has not been published. He expressed a hope that some of this unpublished work can be recorded in the near future. Most people present were surprised when he recounted how Patsy played in the Royal Albert Hall in London and also for a time backed The Scaffold, a band led by Paul McCarthy’s brother, Peter which had a big hit in the seventies with Lily the Pink. John Duke, who travelled all over Ireland with Patsy when he returned from London, explained how Patsy was known far and wide and was a very charming, witty, charismatic man who drew everyone towards him as soon as he entered a room.
Anna Kavanagh explained how the festival is an opportunity for people to come out over the August bank holiday weekend and enjoy for free, the wealth of music that is in their local area. She paid tribute to the many musicians who are making this possible. She called on people to invite their relatives home from abroad for the week. In addition to being a huge opportunity to enjoy a week’s craic agus ceol from Mullingar to Longford town and from Tyrrelspass to Drumlish, the eight day festival has the potential to be a major lure for tourism in the area. “Longford may have lost one festival but has now gained another and it is up to people to lend their support and make it a success,” she added.
Speaking after the launch, Festival Committee Chairperson, Patsy Guirke expressed his delight at the huge crowd of musicians and people who turned up for the launch. “It has exceeded our best expectations and if tonight is any indication then Longford-Westmeath is set to have a mighty festival the first week in August.” He went on to say, “I’m relieved that Patsy’s memory is being kept alive and that he won’t be forgotten.”
On the night seventeen Seisiúns were already in place and this has risen to over twenty as more and more groups want to be part of the festival. Anyone who wants to have an event can do so by contacting Anna Kavanagh 085 889 5522 and businesspeople wishing to advertise or promote their business on the website patsyfarrellfestival.com can contact Pierce Butler on 087 412 4113.