The countdown to Northern Ireland’s largest festival to celebrate the life and legacy of St Patrick is under way following an official launch at The Palace, Armagh.
The 10-day programme of events get under way on Thursday March 10th.
Billed as the biggest-ever festival of its kind in the UK and Ireland to celebrate St Patrick, with more than 100 events showcasing the best of culture, music, song and dance, the 2016 programme is the result of an innovative and exciting collaboration between Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.
The Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, Darryn Causby, and the Chairperson of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, Mickey Ruane, welcomed key tourism and hospitality stakeholders, including Terence Brannigan, Chair of Tourism Northern Ireland, to officially launch the festival.
The launch event provided an overview of the unrivalled programme of activity which underlines the brand festival event. In addition, guests were advised that the new In the Footsteps of St Patrick documentary will be given its first airing in the St Patrick Visitor Centre, Downpatrick, as part of the pilgrimage event on 19th March.
Recognising the importance of the region as an area of historical, cultural and spiritual significance, Terence Brannigan, Chairman, Tourism NI, said: “Bound together by the importance and significance in the life of St Patrick, I’m delighted that the two councils have come together to develop this excellent joint project, where more than 100 events will bring the best of culture, music, song and dance and more to key locations right across Armagh and Down.
“Tourism Northern Ireland is squarely behind the vision of the event, which will see Northern Ireland recognised as the most authentic cultural destination in the world for celebrating St Patrick and exploring his legacy.”
The festival also celebrates the region’s heritage of local produce with numerous events supporting the NI Year of Food and Drink, while the spiritual significance of St Patrick and his effect on the area is highlighted with numerous religious services and choral concerts.
In Armagh City, The Market Place Theatre takes centre stage to showcase several of the festival’s signature events, while there are also a series of specially-planned events at the Navan Fort & Centre, the Armagh Observatory, St Patrick’s Square, Downpatrick, Inch Abbey and at Down Cathedral.
Councillor Darryn Causby, Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, said: “We are thrilled to showcase the superb Festival programme at today’s event as we look forward to welcoming visitors from near and far to this dynamic and welcoming part of Northern Ireland.
“As a council we firmly believe that the significance of Armagh and Downpatrick in St Patrick’s life must be properly celebrated and showcased to a worldwide audience. The foundation of Armagh’s legendary status and its historical importance rests firmly on the life of St Patrick, and, with our partners at Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, we will enthral and entertain with the outstanding breadth of activity and talent on show.”
Key highlights of the festival programme include the crowd-pleasing carnival parades and processions which will take place in Newry, Downpatrick and in Armagh on St Patrick’s Day when spectacular displays of colour, music, dance and entertainment, embracing the theme of “Feasts and Wild Beasts” will provide hours of enjoyment.
Councillor Mickey Ruane, Chair, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, said: “With less than a week to go until the Festival begins, we are looking forward to celebrating St Patrick’s legacy with the highest quality offering of modern and traditional musicians, dance troupes, cultural performances and spiritual events for everyone to enjoy. Many of the pivotal moments in St Patrick’s life took place across this region, whether at Saul church or his burial site at Down Cathedral and it continues to draw visitors from across the world to experience the mysticism and history.”
Music plays a key role throughout the festival, with the Ulster Orchestra, The Arco String Quartet, Duke Special, BBC’s The Voice winner Andrea Begley, Moya Brennan, Brian Finnegan, Beoga and Connla add to the high-calibre of acts scheduled to perform.
The internationally-acclaimed St Patrick’s Lecture takes place at The Market Place Theatre on March 16th and will feature the Primates of the two principal churches in Ireland in conversation with BBC journalist Tara Mills.
A free shuttle bus service will be available to transport visitors between Armagh and Downpatrick for a selection of key events taking place over the course of the Festival.