A Newry councillor believes that the city is 'missing a trick' by not tapping properly into our maritime history, and has proposed that Newry should have a major new festival celebrating and showcasing it's unique waterways and maritime history.

Cllr Michael Savage sees ongoing efforts to clean up the Clanrye River and canal areas as a step towards getting the city ready for a major international festival. The councillor also suggested that two festivals that ran in Newry September last year Iúr Cinn Fleadh and City of Merchants Festival could be combined in the future.

"Last week both myself and Cllr Gary Stokes secured a motion to be debated at the RTS Committee that will see a Task Force being formed to devise a strategy that will lead to the clean up and maintenance of the Clanrye River and in turn will see increased activity around the upkeep of Newry Canal.

The 2017 City of Merchants in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
The 2017 City of Merchants in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

"We need to have ambition for our city and its people and we need to ensure that our unique assets that are our waterways are brought up to a standard that they can be celebrated and showcased through a major annual festival that has the potential to attract visitors from all over the world. If we are to spend £20 million on a new Civic Centre and Conference and Theatre Complex that are designed to create more bed nights in the city then we need to develop and grow an international festival that puts Newry on the global tourist map.

"In the months ahead we will have the excellent Iúr Cinn Fleadh Festival followed by the Newry Merchants Festival. While both are great events I feel it is time to sit down with the organisers of these events and see if there is an opportunity in 2019 to bring both together into a bigger festival that is a major celebration of our city and we maximise the use of our funding to allow these festivals to blossom into something spectacular. Iúr Cinn Fleadh is a fantastic celebration of the superb traditional music culture in our city and Newry Merchants Festival is a celebration of the city's proud trading history.

"We now also have our magnificent Greenway operational and this gives us the ideal platform to build on as it gives visitors to our city the opportunity to view our unique waterways in all their glory and with the new park planned for the Albert Basin that straddles both the Clanrye River and Newry Canal we have real potential to build an international festival that grows year on year.

The Brian Boro Tall Ship at Albert Basin in July. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
The Brian Boro Tall Ship at Albert Basin in July. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

"Newry Canal is one of our unique waterways as the oldest Navigational Canal in Ireland, yet it remains our best kept secret. It has a rich history with many local families down through the centuries involved in shipping and warehousing. If anyone has ever been on one of the walking tours of the city they will be aware of just how rich this history is.

Speaking of Newry's connections in the past with ports around the world the Newry City Councillor added "Goods like sugar and other commodities that were shipped into Newry came here from all over the world. There is so much we can turn to in Newry's maritime heritage to frame a festival that will have a real international feel and has the potential to attract visitors from across the globe such was the city's connections with ports as far away as the Caribbean and further afield.

"The shipping industry and its workers were the key source of trade for local hostelries across the city over the centuries and this is where a lot of the great musical talent we have in this city evolved. I believe the musical and trading history of this city can be brought together into a fantastic Newry International Maritime Festival that brings all that is best in our current offerings under a major event that can rival anything Belfast or Derry has to offer.

"In recent months I have spoken with many organisations across the city such as Newry Maritime Association who believe we are missing a trick by not really tapping into our unique maritime history as a means to develop tourism in our city and district. I believe we now need to aim big and start the discussions now that will lead to an International Maritime Festival in Newry in 2019 and beyond."

The 2018 Iúr Cinn Fleadh takes place from 6 - 9 September and City of Merchants date is to be announced.

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