Phoenix festival will mark Tullamore's rise from ashes

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Tullamore, Co Offaly, which faces the loss of two major agricultural events because of foot-and-mouth restrictions, has decided to hold its own celebration on the last weekend of the month.

The organisers of Tullamore National Livestock Show, which normally takes place in the middle of August, became the first victim of the foot-and-mouth outbreak when it was decided not to proceed with the event.

The foremost agricultural show in the State, it has attracted up to 40,000 people and the top livestock and bloodstock nationwide. It was estimated to contribute upwards of £1 million to the local economy.

However, the show committee decided several months ago that it would be too dangerous to bring so many farm animals and people together.

The decision was praised by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Mr Walsh.

Tullamore's economy received a further setback with the cancellation of Macra na Feirme's "Queen of the Land" competition, which is hosted annually by the town and brings in over 2,000 young people for an extended weekend.

According to Mr Ger Scully, public relations officer for the new festival, it was decided to take some of the gloom away by holding a new festival, called the Phoenix festival, from August 31st to September 2nd.

"Most Tullamore people know that their town was burned to the ground in the first ever hot-air balloon accident in 1785 and the town recovered from that tragedy which, as you can imagine, was a major catastrophe," he said.

"We decided that we would bring back the balloons to Tullamore again, not to burn the town, but to celebrate its Phoenix-like rise from the ashes back in the 18th century."

According to Mr Scully, 10 ballooners from Ireland and the UK are attending, and will fly out of the town park in the mornings and evenings.

"We will also have sporting, musical and water-based events on the Grand Canal," he said.

In keeping with the town's history, which had another near-miss with a fire in a tobacco factory and lost its Catholic church to fire in the recent past, the grand finale of the event will be a major fireworks display on September 2nd.

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