Life

Lynette Fay: Why November means Armagh for a dyed-in-the-wool Tyrone woman

My family home is about 15 miles from Armagh. As a lover of music, can you imagine my astonishment to discover a world class, four-day festival on my doorstep? I was used to travelling far and wide to access this calibre of music

Pipe dreams – musicians from Sardinia, Algeria, Canada, France, Asturias, Galicia, Australia, England and all across Ireland descend on Armagh each November
Lynette Fay

NOVEMBER, November... out of the darkness of the beginning of the month, since 2004 November has meant only one thing to me: Armagh.

Now, as a very proud, self-respecting Tyrone woman, I understand why you might be puzzled. I am not the biggest fan of Co Armagh. It’s not Championship season; apple season is over too. For years, I refused to wear anything orange for fear of anyone daring to think that I might like Armagh in any way.

So, what is my problem with the ‘one fair county in Ireland’? To be honest, I have not got a clue!

It might have started in 2002 when the Orchard County won the All Ireland Football Championship for the first time – but the seed might have been sown well before that…

Regular readers – however many of you there may be – will know that I’m from Tyrone. I think that it’s fair to say that there’s not much love lost between these neighbouring counties.

SPOILER ALERT. **The following revelation may shock some readers**

I take a deep breath as I admit this. My mother, Brenda, whom I love dearly, is from the county of Armagh. Even though she has been living in God’s own country for most of her life, (That’s Tyrone, just to be clear), she has never let her go of her Orchard County roots – and why would she?

I will return to the subject of my mother as an Armagh woman in Tyrone at a later date. Sorry, Mummy.

Now that you have drawn breath again, back to the reason why November to me means Armagh. This weekend, the 25th William Kennedy Piping Festival is taking place in the city.

Before I get into what this festival is, what it represents and what it has brought to Armagh and to this region, I think that it is appropriate to take our minds back to its beginnings in 1994. It was the year of ceasefire and with that came both hope and uncertainty. In Armagh, a group of visionaries set about doing something extremely positive. I am very sure that, at the time, most contemporaries would have thought that their efforts were extremely ambitious, verging on mad.

In late September 2004, as I was on my way to record at an event, ironically, in Armagh, I was involved in a car accident. I was injured and had to take time off work. The recovery process meant that I had to take things easy. I stayed at home in Tyrone for a few weeks.

During those few weeks, I discovered the William Kennedy Piping Festival, which is hosted and curated by the world famous Armagh Pipers Club.

William Kennedy was born in Tandragee, Co Armagh, in 1768. He was a blind and was fascinated by the mechanics of the uilleann pipes and clocks and made both exquisitely.

My first visit was an eye-opener. My family home is about 15 miles from Armagh. As a lover of music, can you imagine my astonishment to discover a world class, four-day festival on my doorstep? I was used to travelling far and wide to access this calibre of music.

That first visit will always stay with me. The Charlemont Arms hotel was full of music – in every corner – local musicians, international musicans, all mixing amicably, naturally. It was incredible.

Musicians from Sardinia, Algeria, Canada, France, Asturias, Galicia, Australia, England and many more places descend on Armagh each November, savouring the prospect of exchanging music, tradition, love of indigenous music, language and so much more.

Already this weekend, there have been schools' concerts, lectures, part one of a gala concert, numerous recitals and sessions. There will be music in many venues all over Armagh city today and tomorrow and workshops hosted by world class musicians.

From very humble beginnings 25 years ago – in the Drumsill hotel, I believe – over the last quarter of a century, despite having its ups and downs with funding and support, the William Kennedy Piping festival has flourished and is now a staple in the music calendar. It is organised and run by volunteers.

The 25-year history of the festival is too vast to cover in this column. In a week where there has been nothing only talk of borders and backstops, take a trip to Armagh this weekend and take shelter from the storm raging outside.

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