Féile an Phobail

D OC donaloc at peterquinn.com
Thu Aug 15 05:10:42 MDT 2002

I'm glad you liked the Féile, Zac. Its a totally worthwhile project in my

I remember spending an hour or so backstage after dancing the night away to
a great Cuban Salsa band with Gerry Adams, Caitriona Ruane [the former
organiser] and a few East Belfast Protestants, and that was after getting
into an argument with Bernadette McAliskey over the current Republican
strategy. That night kind of said it all about the festival. Well, that and
me nearly getting shot earlier that day by a couple of head-bangers who
thought I was a Brit spy!! That's what you get for singing Republican songs
in strange company in West Belfast!

Its a real attempt to draw people together but on a very non-apologetic
working-class Republican basis. It challenges Protestants [and middle-class
nationalists] to come to terms with our reality and our way of looking at
things - even if they don't agree. I'm glad that it has achieved some
success in that direction. In passing we should note the absolute refusal of
the Unionist-dominated Belfast City Council to give it a penny worth of
funding because its considered 'political' rather than artistic! At the same
time, the middle class Queen's Arts Festival gets tens of thousands for its
non-challenging 'acceptable' "art".

As an aside, the Festival is run by a community-run non-profit umbrella
group involving local community groups from all four quarters of Belfast and
gets perhaps tens of thousands of people involved in arts and cultural
activities. The programme is thoroughly internationalist and includes large
amounts of participative arts type stuff.

The programme also has a political edge. This year it included a lecture by
Robert Fisk on US Imperialism - which was very well attended [I saw a photo
of the Palestinian Ambassador and Gerry Adams sitting together in the
audience]. It included a range of debates and historical tours around the
city - Derry has a similar festival too. The organising group, Féile an
Phobail also organises a range of activities around the year - the August
Féile replaced the annual 'internment' protests - which were an annual orgy
of violence at which large numbers of nationalist youths were injured each
year. The festival has transformed this time from an expression of violence
(and lop-sided) street conflict into a radical and challenging celebration
of the working-class Irish tradition in Belfast. There's always a time for
fighting but we should focus on doing constructive stuff too - especially
when it builds our own communities' self-respect and strength.

I don't know whether I agree with your comments on political culturalism - I
think that's a good thing. Look at Britain or other countries - their
working class are emasculated from politics.

Perhaps, I am misconstruing your phrase - perhaps you mean the
identification of politics with religion or 'culture'. The former is clearly
not very beneficial to anyone. In regard to the latter - I would view all
culture as political in some sense.

Zac look out for those hymn-singing Christian types - they're a nasty bunch
altogether - especially when you live in their midst.


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