Northern Ireland news

Féile director hails success of west Belfast festival

Kevin Gamble with his wife Danielle and children at the Michael Conlon boxing match in Falls Park
Mairead Holland

A dance night for young people in west Belfast has been credited with helping "dramatically reduce" nationalist bonfire activity across the city.

Around 12,000 will attend the event tomorrow in the Falls Park featuring world-class and local DJs.

It is part of the Féile an Phobail festival which ends on Sunday after 11 days.

Director Kevin Gamble (38) said last year was the first since 1971 that there had been no bonfires in republican areas of Belfast.

He said there had been some initial bonfire building before this week's dance night was announced but most of that activity had stopped.

A bonfire in the New Lodge area of north Belfast is the only one remaining this year, with efforts continuing by community, council and political leaders to address the problem.

August 8 is when bonfires were traditionally lit to mark the anniversary of internment.

"This Thursday night, August 8, we will have DJs coming from all over the world and the Falls Park will be packed with young people," Mr Gamble said.

"It's a positive community impact as opposed to the images of burning cars and confrontations with police we had in the past."

The dance night is being headlined by Dutch DJ Ferry Corsten with other artists including Gentech, Eddie Halliwell, Mauro Picotto, Bryan Kearney, Zatax, Shugz, and Darren Styles.

Mr Gamble said the festival, which was established 31 years ago to portray the positive side of west Belfast, has had its most successful year ever.

"The quality of the events and the number of events has made it the best so far," he said.

"Over the 11 days, we will have welcomed around 80,000 people, and about half of those come from outside of the north.

"The Michael Conlan fight has probably been the highlight. It was broadcast around the world and brought the exposure we got to another level.

"The atmosphere and the build-up was incredible. I think people will be talking about it and remember it for years."

A native of west Belfast, Mr Gamble has held the full-time post of Féile director since 2011 and was seven years old when the festival first started.

The father-of-six said: "I grew up going to Féile. The transition in it since I was that age is phenomenal.

"People always told the people in west Belfast they couldn't do things but they went and did it. We want people to see it as a model of peace and progress."

Events over the past 11 days have ranged from music and comedy to drama and debates, with participants including unionist politicians, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Labour's Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Gina Murray, whose 13-year-old daughter Leanne died in the Shankill bomb.

This Saturday, 12,000 fans are expected at the Boyzone concert in the Falls Park with a similar number of tickets sold for the final day on Sunday when the Wolfe Tones take to the stage.

Féile, which runs a number of festivals and events throughout the year, has five other full-time staff and a team of around 200 volunteers.

"We pride ourselves on the fact that our volunteers come from all across the city. The whole community gets behind the festival and there's a real feel-good factor.

"The support we get from the community is the most important part."

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