Fighting famine with a feast of music


THE Great Irish Famine Event is ready to recall that black period of history 150 years ago with a big festival in Millstreet next Saturday and Sunday. Don't worry, you won't have to fast over the June Bank Holiday weekend, but you will have to dig into your pockets to help fight famine in the Third World. For your reward you'll be entertained by artists such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Brian Kennedy, The Corrs, Paul Brady, Altan and The Saw Doctors.

The Great Famine Event - also known as The Homecoming - will be held at the Green Glens Arena in Millstreet. The organisers originally planned to hold it in the grounds of nearby Drishane Castle, and were rather optimistically expecting 100,000 descendants of the two million Irish folk who fled the Famine to flock from overseas for the show, but the projected attendance figure has since been pared down to a more realistic 25,000.

If, by some strange magic, 100,000 children of the diaspora do make the trip to Millstreet, there won't be much room left for us regular mortals, so we might miss out on what the press release promises will be "the greatest concert ever staged in Ireland".

The Homecoming is a today extravaganza of music, song and dance, storytelling and candlelighting, beginning with The Gathering on Saturday May 31st and finishing with The Awakening on the Sunday. The Gathering is not an organised potato picking afternoon, but a celebration of Irish culture and tradition hosted by actor Gabriel Byrne and former Riverdance star Jean Butler. It takes place indoors at the Green Glens Arena, and features performances by actor Patrick Bergin, The Chieftains, The Corrs, The Saw Doctors, Eleanor McEvoy and Maighread Meadh.

But the main attraction of the evening is bound to be the President, Mrs Robinson, who will come onstage to light a special emigrants' candle" in honour of the Irish spirit worldwide. Across the Atlantic, President Bill Clinton will simultaneously light a candle in his home country, while a "famine ship" sets sail from Cobh Harbour on a symbolic voyage, scattering flowers into the sea in remembrance of those lost Famine souls.

Highlights from the show will be televised worldwide, but once again the mooted figure of 20 million viewers seems a little fantastical.

The next day, Sunday June 1st, Bob and Van headline The Awakening, an outdoor concert in the arena, and the supporting cast includes Brian Kennedy, Paul Brady, Altan, AfroCelt Sound System, Naimee Coleman and Ron Sexsmith, with The Corrs and The Saw Doctors returning for their second appearance of the weekend. There's also a good chance that Morrison and Zimmerman might get together for a bit of a superstar jam session, but we'll just have to wait and see, won't we?

The proceeds from Great Irish Famine Event will benefit Gorta, the Irish charity which battles against global hunger, and another beneficiary will be the Big Issues magazine, which helps the homeless and unemployed in Ireland. Tickets for each day are priced at £25, or £40 to cover both days. Children under 10 get in free if accompanied by an adult, and with the lineup of popular artists on offer, plus the excellent facilities on offer at Millstreet, this looks like the perfect family outing.