Newry Musical Feis was launched in September 1928 and last night saw the launch of its 90th Anniversary Year at a packed evening in the Canal Court Hotel. The event saw  the presentation of a Presidential Chain of Office to the current President, Mrs Alma Brown LLCM by Mr Lowry Hodgett. 

The chain bearing the names of all the Feis Presidents since 1928, was jointly sponsored by The Newry Reporter and Newry Musical Feis.

Lowry Hodgett, Newry Reporter presents a new chain of office to Alma Brown, President, Newry Musical Feis at a function to launch their 90th year in the Canal Court Hotel. The chain was jointly sponsored by Newry Musical Feis and the Newry Reporter. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Lowry Hodgett, Newry Reporter presents a new chain of office to Alma Brown, President, Newry Musical Feis at a function to launch their 90th year in the Canal Court Hotel. The chain was jointly sponsored by Newry Musical Feis and the Newry Reporter. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Speaking of his delight at having this opportunity to address the large group of committee members and voluntary helpers, Mr Hodgett stressed the value and importance of the work of the Feis in an age when young people are caught up in a world dominated by ubiquitous digital technology.  He observed that opportunities for self-expression through music, speech and dance have never been more important, and praised Newry Feis for providing such invaluable experiences in public performance that do so much to build the self-confidence of our young people.

Alma Brown, 3rd from left, President, Newry Musical Feis pictured with her family. From left Siobhan Doran, Kate Curran, Pat Brown, Selina Smith, Ann Tremer, Cassie Smith, Aine Tremer, Jessica Tremer, Lowry Hodgett and Siobhan Curran. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Alma Brown, 3rd from left, President, Newry Musical Feis pictured with her family. From left Siobhan Doran, Kate Curran, Pat Brown, Selina Smith, Ann Tremer, Cassie Smith, Aine Tremer, Jessica Tremer, Lowry Hodgett and Siobhan Curran. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Mrs Brown, who took up the role of President in 2015, has served on the Feis Committee for almost sixty years. She was joined on the evening by three generations of her family and expressed her thanks to all of her colleagues for their dedication and hard work.  Mrs Brown was honoured and delighted to receive the Presidential Chain which is engraved with the names of her five predecessors and their dates of election as follows: David Ferris 1928, Rev. J.P. Burke 1957, Mr. H Lyons 1966, Mr. Kevin Neary 1970, Miss Ethel Fitzpatrick 2001.  

Feis Vice-President, Rhoda Neary, widow of former President Kevin, was accompanied on the occasion by her son Kevin and daughter Barbara.  

Angela Rafferty and daughter Paula at the launch of the 90th year of Newry Musical Feis in the Canal Court Hotel, Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Angela Rafferty and daughter Paula at the launch of the 90th year of Newry Musical Feis in the Canal Court Hotel, Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Guests included Carolyn McCabe, BEM, Festivals Vice President of the British and International Federation of Festivals for Music, Dance and Speech; Lowry and Molly Hodgett, in honour of the close connection between the Feis and the Hodgett family and their Newry Reporter publication since the inaugural meeting almost ninety years ago; members of the Brown and Neary families and Feis committee members past and present.

The 90th Anniversary Year was officially launched by Mrs Carolyn McCabe BEM, Festivals Vice-President of the British and International Federation of Festivals.  In a speech which focused on the achievements of the Newry Musical Feis committees over the years Mrs McCabe stressed the outstanding atmosphere of co-operation, warmth and friendliness which she has always experienced during her visits.  An atmosphere unique to this Festival.  

Catherine Dooley, Teresa McArdle and Jane Graham, Ravensdale; Martina Masterson, Poyntzpass and Naoimh Mathers, Beleeks at the launch of the 90th year of Newry Musical Feis. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Catherine Dooley, Teresa McArdle and Jane Graham, Ravensdale; Martina Masterson, Poyntzpass and Naoimh Mathers, Beleeks at the launch of the 90th year of Newry Musical Feis. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

The evening was a great success and we now look forward to a very special year in 2018. At one of the inaugural meetings in autumn 1928 a comment was made: 'it was necessary to have secretaries who knew not the meaning of the word failure' and this is still a very necessary requirement, not only for secretaries but for everyone involved.  As a committee, we look forward to the continued support of our contributors and sponsors, especially in this landmark year.

‘The Feis', as it is known locally, came into being in 1928 when a group of interested men and women in the area decided to launch the 'first Newry musical festival'. After some discussion it was unanimously decided, on the suggestion of Mr Scott, Headmaster of the Model School, that the festival should be known as the "Newry Musical Feis".  The people of the town and district were asked for support with the provision of medals and trophies, although the hope had been expressed that the Feis would not be turned into medal hunting.

From this humble beginning, the Feis has continued to go from strength to strength, taking place every year since that date even through the war years.

Mollie and Lowry Hodget with Frances and Graham Hamilton at the launch of the 90th year of Newry Musical Feis. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Mollie and Lowry Hodget with Frances and Graham Hamilton at the launch of the 90th year of Newry Musical Feis. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Currently, the number of performances each year has reached a staggering 14,000 and Newry Musical Feis, which is affiliated to the British and International Federation of Festivals for Music, Dance and Speech, is held in two main venues over 43 days, making it the largest in the British Isles and second largest in the world, surpassed only by Hong Kong.  

Young and old performers enjoy the participation and, although there is a natural desire to win trophies or medals, the main focus for organisers and performers alike is the 'taking part', the experience, the enjoyment and the camaraderie.  As adjudicators frequently emphasise the Feis provides a valuable platform for performers and has a very positive effect on improving self-confidence, especially in young and inexperienced performers.  As a committee, we take great pride in the fact that so many parents and performers themselves comment on how enjoyable it is to attend Newry Feis.  

Marian McGauley, Bridie Devlin, Eileen Ferguson, Patrick Kelly and Paula Rafferty at the launch of the 90th year of Newry Musical Feis in the Canal Court Hotel. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Marian McGauley, Bridie Devlin, Eileen Ferguson, Patrick Kelly and Paula Rafferty at the launch of the 90th year of Newry Musical Feis in the Canal Court Hotel. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Entries are received from as far afield as Dublin, Athlone, Bangor, Ballymena and Sligo but, obviously, the largest numbers come from the local area and the Feis committee is indebted to the local primary, secondary and grammar schools as well as local private teachers in speech and drama, dance (Irish, Modern and Ballet), music (including organ and traditional) and singing, who support us year after year. Not all classes are competitive and there are opportunities for Special Needs groups to participate in the Music Section. The Feis also offers a Roinn na Gaeilge section and classes for children whose first language is not English. Many young performers who came through Newry Musical Feis have gone on to professional careers in their discipline and many still keep contact with the Feis.

All personnel associated with the Feis, committee members and helpers alike, work in a totally voluntary capacity, giving of their time and expertise freely.

If you would like to get involved they are constantly looking for volunteers who may be able to spare some time, once a year to help with supervision. 

Check out www.newrymusicalfeis.com