Mayo gets ready to re-enact Races of Castlebar during spectacular Gathering festival

Details of In Humbert’s Footsteps, Mayo’s flagship Gathering event, were unveiled at a public meeting in Castlebar on Wednesday night.

A conservative estimate of 10,000 people are expected to descend on the county town during the re-enactment of the Races of Castlebar which forms only one part of the event.

The four day festival will commence in Killala on Thursday August 15 with a photographic exhibition in the local shops followed by traditional music sessions in the pubs.

On the Friday, French re-enactors will assemble a 1798 style soldiers’ camp at the town park in Killala where the public can view items of the day such as muskets and muskateers to cooking pots and canons. Other cultural events will take place as well.

Irish, British, and French navy vessels will join in a symbolic re-enactment of the French landing and ceremonial presentation of an Irish warhorse to General Humbert at Kilcummin on the morning of Saturday August 17. That afternoon ‘war’ will break out in Killala as the First Battle of Killala explodes onto the streets. Expect canons, muskets, swords, and pikes to clash to the echoes of an all out battle. Heavily armed redcoats, blue-clad French soldiers, and ferocious Irish pikemen will join with the cavalry to create a realistic re-enactment. Following this a French re-enactor will read General Humbert’s Proclamation and raise the Erin go Bragh flag.

That night a celebration banquet will take place in the Killala Community Centre. While this is all happening in Killala, in Castlebar on the same day a living history event will take place on the Mall. There will be street music, a French market, an old-style carnival and an exhibition in the Linenhall.

Sunday morning will commence with a symbolic dedication ceremony at Lahardane to the men and women of 1798. Killala town centre will host a 1798 market day while there will be fun in the park that afternoon. That night, Brian Murray, star of Year of the French, will read extracts of Bishop Stock’s accounts of 1798 battles in north Mayo and a ceilí will take place in the town centre.

In Castlebar on Sunday the ‘army’ will gather at Staball which was the main focus of action. The Red Coats will be chased down Staball Hill amid canon guns booming and bellowing from the bridge below. The action will move onto Main Street and Christ Church before dignitaries will hold a dedication and remembrance ceremony for those from all sides who participated in the Rebellion of 1798.

That night world-renowned traditional music and dance group Ragús will perform a specially commissioned music and dance piece at a gala victory concert at the military barracks in Castlebar. Other exhibitions and commemorative dedications will take place during the festival.

One of the organisers, Castlebar town councillor Ger Deere, told the public meeting: “This is a story that needs to be told. This event has huge potential.” He appealed to every organisation of the town to support the festival. Mayor of Castlebar Brendan Henaghan assured the meeting that the “wow” factor was coming to Mayo. The inspiration behind the event, Steve Dunford, gave a passionate account of how Mayo is so deeply connected to General Humbert and why the county must develop the links and never let them die. Organiser Mick Baynes appealed to the businesses and organisations of the town to run side events around In Humbert’s Footsteps to ensure it’s success.

Fergal Ó Murchú of Ragús said he was “humbled and privileged” to be invited to be part of the event. The piece being developed by Ragús will be titled A Republic of Connacht and he vowed that between now and August his group would promote In Humbert’s Footsteps all over the world.

An appeal was sent out by committee member Noel Byrne for volunteers and stewards who will be an essential part of the success of the festival. Anyone interested in getting involved can email [email protected]

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