Sydney Irish Festival

Cider brand sues GAA over Sydney Irish Festival

An ad for last November’s Sydney irish Festival which ran into problems over poor ticket sales.

An ad for last November’s Sydney irish Festival which ran into problems over poor ticket sales.

The widely-criticised Sydney Irish Festival, which took place in November, is now part of a legal claim against the GAA.

The manufacturer of Bulmers is suing the GAA in Ireland’s High Court, claiming it reneged on a deal to put the cider brand on tap in Croke Park, according to The Times.

In its action Bulmers, owned by C&C Group, is claiming it had an agreement for “pouring rights” in GAA headquarters. But the liquor company also wants to recover sponsorship money it claims it is owed relating to the Sydney Irish Festival, a GAA event in Australia last November, because the event did not go ahead in the way it had been presented to the cider company.

It is understood that C&C Group believed that sponsorship of the festival was linked to securing “pouring rights” in Croke Park.

The two-day festival in Sydney, which was sponsored by Magners, as Bulmers is known in Australia, was reduced to a one-day event due to lower than expected ticket sales. Held in the Sydney Showground, the festival included a hurling match on November 11 between league champions Kilkenny and Galway, the All-Ireland champions of 2017.

Plans for a “family fun day” on November 10, featuring hurling clinics, amusement rides, player autograph sessions, activities for kids and a Guinness World Records attempt to make the world’s biggest Irish stew, were all cancelled just five days before the event.

Galway revellers at the ill-fated Sydney Irish Festival.

Galway revellers at the ill-fated Sydney Irish Festival.

Well-known ballad singer Mary Black, urban folk performer Damien Dempsey, electro-folk outfit Saint Sister and enduringly popular trad band Lúnasa had been scheduled to perform on the first day of the weekend festival. The announcement of the change was met with disappointment and rancour, especially from those who had booked travel from other states and/or time off work. The late change left them out of pocket on air fares and accommodation.

Many patrons who attended the event were quick to criticise the organisation of the day with long queues for the bars. When some reached the top of a long queue, they were further frustrated to find out they could only get two drinks per person.

Paul Sergeant of Paul Sergeant Events, who was the local organiser of the festival, told The Irish Echo that the hurling had been a huge success but “we were deeply disappointed that we had to make the difficult decision to cancel the Saturday events and we apologise for the inconvenience it will have caused.

“There has been plenty of positive feedback about the day but it was spoilt for some by their experience at the bars. The venue operator has to adhere by RSA [responsible service of alcohol] requirements specific to every event, hence the drinks limit and bar closure times,” Paul Sergeant said.

“We have discussed the issue of lengthy queues with the venue operator and they apologise for being unable to meet the huge demand.”

Asked if another festival is planned for the coming years, Mr Sergeant replied: “The 2018 event was very much a test event. A thorough de-brief will be held … and that will determine what happens in the future.”

Electro-folk duo on first Australian tour

Saint Sister have won praise in Ireland for their ‘atmosfolk’ sound.

Saint Sister have won praise in Ireland for their ‘atmosfolk’ sound.

The Irish Times says, “their haunting performance is impeccable”, while Hot Press laud their “tremendous vocal depth and vulnerability”. 

They once sang with world conquering Hozier at Trinity College and now, Irish electro-folk duo Saint Sister are headed to Australia for their first tour which will include Sydney Irish Festival and Mullum Music Festival. 

Described as a mix of early harp traditional, folk and electronic pop or simply ‘atmosfolk’, Saint Sister is made up of Gemma Doherty and Morgan MacIntyre, who first came together in 2014. Their first trip down under comes immediately after the October release of their debut album, Shape of Silence, produced by Alex Ryan (Hozier’s bassist). 

“I’ve always wanted to come and see Australia and we definitely weren’t expecting to be able to go this soon,” Doherty tells The Irish Echo.

MacIntyre adds: “It’s a dream come true to be able to get to go to Australia at this stage. We’re really looking forward to it.”

The band will join big names like Damien Dempsey, Mary Black and Lunasa for the Sydney Irish Festival that takes place over the weekend of 10-11 November and also includes a hurling match between Kilkenny and Galway. 

Gemma says: “It’s very exciting. I came from a very traditional Irish background so it’s where a lot of our influences come from, maybe they don’t come directly out on the surface but that’s kind of the world I grew up in so it’s really lovely to be able to cross over into that more traditional Irish folk world sometimes. I’m really excited about that line-up.”

MacIntyre believes expat audiences will relate to Saint Sister’s sound with its innate sense of longing.

“I think Irish music in general has a lot of nostalgia and longing and yearning,” she says. 

“Every kind of Irish music somehow has that innate sense of longing. I think it’s just the make up of us as a country and because we have such a big diaspora, that longing is exacerbated and exaggerated in those forms (music, literature).  

“Music is such a big connector as well. I think we’re lucky as Irish musicians that when we’re travelling around the world , we have this ready made group of people that understand us and it’s probably not the same for other people whose nationalities doesn’t have as big a diaspora. 

“I think that makes it very easy to relate to and it makes it easy for touring musicians from Ireland because you can go away and know you’ll be understood and that your sense of identity and longing and all that stuff that comes with being an Irish person will translate.”

Doherty adds: “It’s incredible to be going to the other side of the world and having a huge bunch of people who have already come from where you’ve come from. Hopefully there’s a connection there already.”

From Derry and Belfast respectively, Doherty and MacIntyre moved to Dublin in 2010 to study at Trinity College where they met. They sang in the Trinity Orchestra together with Hozier before deciding to join together for their own project. Their sound can be described as dreamy, a feeling that is created by their atmospheric sound and beautiful harmonies.  

Their album title, Shape Of Silence, comes, MacIntyre says, from their interest in “the idea of space and what can be said and what can be felt in the gaps, whether it is gaps in the lyrics or the music.  And what can be said when you’re not saying anything. 

“Silence is quite a deadly thing and quite a powerful thing. We thought it was interesting to think about it as something you can touch and hold and that had weight and was very heavy, so that’s where Shape of Silence came from. It seemed to suit the kind of world we were going for.” 

The album has slowly come together over the last three years as the offers to gig kept coming in, disrupting what could have been writing or recording time. However, this suited them as they still were able to put out material such as their Madrid EP or Tin Man single, both tracks that feature on the album. 

Saint Sister play Sydney Irish Festival on Saturday November 10, Northcote Social Club, Melbourne on Sunday November 11, The Lansdowne in Sydney on Tuesday November 13 and Mullum Music Festival on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 November. For more information, go to www.saintsisterband.com

Irish soul singer keen to reconnect with Aussie fans

Damien Dempsey has a huge following in Australia.

Damien Dempsey has a huge following in Australia.

One of Ireland’s most distinctive voices and passionate performers returns to Australia this November.

Since the release of his debut They Don’t Teach This Shit in School in 2000, Damien Dempsey has earned the admiration of performers as diverse as Sinead O’Connor, Morrissey and Bruce Springsteen.

His style has been called ‘urban folk’ but he prefers to call it ‘Irish soul’ and the Dubliner is never inhibited about weighing into political debates and championing community causes.

He returns to Australia in November to headline the Sydney Irish Festival which will also feature Mary Black, Lunasa and Saint Sister (see page 6).

“I never performed with Mary but I would know her kids well,” Damien tells The Irish Echo. “You never know, we might do something at the end of the night if she’s into it. With Lunasa and that, get a bit of a singsong going. I always stick in a few of the old Irish songs because they have such great memories, the songs of our ancestors. They’re just like old ghosts and you just have to breathe new life into them and they come alive.

“I want to get everyone in those showgrounds to feel on cloud nine, make them feel as high as they can. A natural high. Get them all singing. Singing is a great way to get people high. To get them all singing in unison, it releases endorphins. It’s great.”

Dempsey is no stranger to playing to huge Irish crowds abroad and has played to St Patrick’s Day crowds in Australia before.

“Years ago, [playing to large crowds] might have frightened me but I’m kind of ready now for big venues. It took me a while, the nerves used to kill me but I’m ready now. I’m kind of ready for anything now, I think.”

Damien Dempsey lends his support to many community causes. In 2014, he and Glen Hansard performed at a protest against water charges. Picture: Niall Carson

Damien Dempsey lends his support to many community causes. In 2014, he and Glen Hansard performed at a protest against water charges. Picture: Niall Carson

He recalls a memorable night in Sydney in 2013 when he played the Opera House on St Patrick’s Day.

“The Sydney Opera House have never seen a crowd like it. They were up on the seats with the tops off, arm in arm, singing the songs and they drank the bar dry in about 40 minutes. They had to close the bar because they drank every bit of alcohol, everything was gone so the Opera House (officials and staff) were just going around with their mouths open, just ‘what the hell?’

“They had never seen an audience like it but they were no trouble, just everybody in great form and singing the songs. I’ve done a couple of Paddy’s days there (Australia) and it’s always very emotional.”

The Dubliner’s music resonates very strongly in emigrant communities and he empathises with those who may have been forced to leave home.

“A lot of them have had to leave Ireland and maybe leave old parents behind that they’re worried about, but they’ve no choice. My parents are in their seventies and they wouldn’t be in great health, the thought of having to live abroad and not be around for them, I would find it very hard. I feel for the guys who have to be away.”

Having lived in New York and London as well as elsewhere in Dublin in spells, Damien now lives in his native Donaghmede: “I was always being told by people during the Celtic Tiger: ‘Buy a house now, get on the property ladder now. It will never go down’. I kind of felt there was a recession coming so I waited and then when the market was rock bottom, I had some savings and got a house in Donaghmede.”

Two recent Irish TV appearances have thrown him into the public spotlight even more than usual. He appeared on the Tommy Tiernan show where he spoke about battles with depression and his ancestry was explored on an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?.

“I had ancestors in the Irish Citizen Army that fought with James Connolly and it went in depth into stories of other people who fought during the famine and were imprisoned with Daniel O’Connell.

“Then there was protestant blood on one of the sides which was a shock for a lot of people. Not to me, I don’t go in for all that really.

“Then my family went to America working in cotton mills over there in horrendous conditions. Some of them disappeared and some of them came back. I was in the school in Letterfrack getting the story of what happened to the children. I was in prisons in Dublin where Fenians were sent and City Hall where my great aunt took the building in 1916. Fairly interesting.”

His Australian tour coincides with the release of his ninth album, Union.

“It includes collaborations that I’ve done with people like Maverick Sabre who is a great singer. Imelda May is on it, Seamus Begley, Finbar Furey and John Grant. I think they’re all fairly powerful (songs),” he says.

Dan Sultan, the Irish-Australian indigenous singer, also joins him on the song, It’s Important.

“Dan wanted to come to Ireland, to Mullingar to see where his people came from. They asked me would I bring him on tour with me around Ireland. I hung out with him down there and he taught me a lot about Aboriginal culture. He’s a great old friend. I’m looking forward to seeing him when I get to Melbourne.”

Historic hurling clash to headline new festival

The hurlers of Kilkenny and Galway will go head to head at Sydney's Olympic Park.

The hurlers of Kilkenny and Galway will go head to head at Sydney's Olympic Park.

SYDNEY’S Olympic Park has hosted many memorable sporting battles but this November it will stage a truly unique event – a hurling game between National League champions Kilkenny and All-Ireland winners Galway.

The game is part of the huge 2018 Magners Sydney Irish Festival and the hurlers will be joined by some stellar musicians including Mary Black, Lúnasa and Damien Dempsey who are performing at a sunset concert.

Events boss Paul Sergeant said the festival wiill be an action-packed two-day celebration of all things Irish at the Sydney Showground.

 “There was so much to build a festival around,” said Mr Sergeant who is organising the event with the GAA.

“There’ve been lots of great things that have taken place around St Patrick’s Day and other Irish festivals. What is unique about this is it is bringing the sporting component at a top level,” he said.

The festival opens on Saturday, November 10 with children’s activities, hurling clinics, Irish dance and music performances, food and drink and carnival rides.

One of the quirkier events is a Guinness World Record attempt for the biggest Irish stew. They’re aiming to make a whopping 20,000 portions.

“The key part of that is when the stew is cooked it would be donated to the homeless,” Mr Sergeant said.

Damien Dempsey is among the confirmed performers for the Sydney Irish Festival.

Damien Dempsey is among the confirmed performers for the Sydney Irish Festival.

At sunset, there’ll be the huge concert with hugely popular homegrown stars Mary Black, Damien Dempsey, Lunasa and Saint Sister.

The second day of the festival will kick off with a Big Irish Brunch before the big hurling game, which has been two years in the planning.

It all came about when Mr Sergeant, who had just set up his own events company, bumped into his friend,  GAA commercial director Peter McKenna, at a conference.

The GAA had just successfully staged a shortened ‘Super-11’ style hurling game between Dublin and Galway in Boston and Mr McKenna suggested it could work in Australia.

During the search for suitable venues they realised that Spotless Stadium at Sydney Olympic Park would allow for a full-size, competitive game rather than just an exhibition match. Mr Sergeant reckons even Aussie spectators will become hurling fans after seeing Galway and Kilkenny compete for the first Wild Swans trophy.

“I think they’ll really take to it,” he said.“Certainly the combative and physical nature of the sport really fits into the Australian psyche.”

The GAA will be picking up the tab for the players’ flights to Australia and the game will be broadcast live on RTÉ. Former Sydney Swan player and current development coach Tadhg Kennelly is one of the festival ambassadors and is, of course, excited about the hurling.

“To have the game I grew up with showcased in Australia at an elite and competitive level is really exciting,” the 2005 Premiership winner said.

He’s planning on bringing his three kids – Maggie, 4, James, 2 and five-month-old Hugh – to the festival to enjoy a taste of Irish culture.

“I’ve already got my four-year-old doing Irish dancing. She loves it,” he told the Irish Echo.

Organisers hope to attract about 40,000 people over the course of the weekend.

For more information, click here.