Belfast Telegraph

Feile tells story of progressive Belfast but Wolfe Tones may not be everyone's cup of tea, says festival director

IRA flags were clearly visible in the crowd during The Wolfe Tones performance. Credit: Feilean Phobail.
IRA flags were clearly visible in the crowd during The Wolfe Tones performance. Credit: Feilean Phobail.
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

The Director of the west Belfast Feile an Phobail has defended the decision to book the Wolfe Tones, after their concert descended into pro-IRA chanting last year.

Kevin Gamble was speaking after a number of Belfast City councillors expressed concerns about a proposal to award an extra £200k funding to the festival. They have not criticised the money going to the festival, but rather how the council process on awarding the cash.

He described the event as about telling the story of the "new Belfast of peace, prosperity and progress," but admitted the rebel band - a "core part of the festival" - may not be "everyone's cup of tea". He also said public money was not used for that event in the festival programme.

He said the festival represented the "heartbeat" of the community and was "value for money".

"Feile has played a leadership role in bringing this city together," he said.

"The Wolfe Tones support peace, all the songs that are sang there, all the people that are presented at that festival are pro-peace."

More than 10,000 people gathered in Falls Park for a concert headlined by Irish rebel music band The Wolfe Tones during the festival in August.

Chants including "Up the Ra" were sung by many in the crowd on the same day as families gathered in Omagh to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the worst atrocity of the Troubles.

Tricolours daubed with IRA slogans were also waved.

Director of Feile Kevin Gamble addressed the issue when speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show on Thursday.

Republican folk band The Wolfe Tones playing at Feile this year
Republican folk band The Wolfe Tones playing at Feile this year

Mr Gamble was on the show to discuss festival funding, after concerns were expressed that other arts groups were losing out due to Feile's "monopoly" on funding.

He was asked how having a band that sings "rebel music" at the festival promoted inclusivity.

"The Wolfe Tones are one of the biggest and most successful bands to come out of Ireland, they play across the whole world," Mr Gamble replied.

"When the Wolfe Tones come to Feile all of sudden people get their backs up, and I can understand to a certain degree. Last year there were a few flags displayed in the audience.

"I'm not going to be a hypocrite and apologise for booking the Wolfe Tones. They have been a core part of the festival programme over the last number of years. It's fair to say we are in a time of peace, the Wolfe Tones support peace, all the songs that are sang there, all the people that are presented at that festival are pro-peace.

We are happy to provide a platform for groups such as the Wolfe Tones.

"If people are singing songs commemorating things that happened in the past, isn't it better the festival provides an outlet for that rather than what was happening before the festival. "

Mr Gamble was asked if he was saying that the festival wanted to provide an outlet for people to chant about the IRA.

"We are happy to provide a platform for groups such as the Wolfe Tones to come to our festival. I understand it won't be everybody's cup of tea," he replied.

He was asked if in trying to host a cross community event, and knowing booking the Wolfe Tones would result in 'IRA' chants, was it more important to have that outlet than to reach out to other people who find it offensive.

"None of the money that we receive from any ratepayers goes into booking the Wolfe Tones, it is paid for through money we bring in ourselves," Mr Gamble said.

The Feile director also addressed concerns about plans to award the festival extra funding.

Mr Gamble said he was stunned at the questions being asked about the "integrity" of the festival.

"Everything that Feile an Phobail does is open and transparent, and always are year round for anyone to come and look at, we'll never apologise for doing our job in seeking more funding and more support," he said.

"It represents the heart of west Belfast, but also the new Belfast that has been emerging from peace. Feile has played a leadership role in bringing this city together.

"This debate seems to trying to push Feile against other arts organisations in this city. We do represent good value for money right across the city."

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