‘Féile was special, it was iconic, it was our Woodstock’
It was the year that Nelson Mandela was released from prison, Germany was reunified after the fall of the Berlin Wall and a computer whizz called Tim Berners-Lee was registering something new called the World Wide Web.
It was also the year that changed everything when it came to live music and festivals in Ireland. It was 1990 when Féile first got under way and the Irish summer would never be the same.
Féile ushered in the idea of seeing multiple acts over the course of a weekend. It created the notion of a destination event – one that you wanted to attend before you even knew who was on the line-up – and it sowed the seeds for the likes of current Irish music festivals including Electric Picnic and Longitude.
Bring your own tent and find hygiene where you can. Féile was different and for an entire generation, the words ‘Trip to Tipp’ would be forever etched into their memories.
Féile was originally proposed as a means of paying back the €1 million plus cost of upgrading Semple Stadium in Thurles, Co Tipperary, to accommodate the 1984 Centenary All-Ireland Hurling Final.
The church didn’t like it, the local Gaelic sportsmen didn’t like it, the young farmers didn’t like it, and if this had been 1950s Ireland, the whole idea would have been shelved. However, it was 1990, and the country was changing.
The Tipperary County Board GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) felt brave enough to proceed with the weekend-long music festival in Semple Stadium.
Such was the success of the first Trip to Tipp that artists from all over the world – including INXS, Iggy Pop, Simply Red, Nanci Griffith, Bryan Adams, The Cranberries, Elvis Costello and Bjork – were clamouring to play Thurles. It seemed, for a time, that Féile might become Europe’s top music event.
However, Tipperary County Board decided not to continue as a concert promoter and, in 1995, Féile moved to Cork – but it wasn’t quite the same.
After a final one-day Thurles concert in 1997, the event dropped from the musical calendar altogether. It looked like the Trip to Tipp, after an all-too-brief moment in the sun, was gone forever.
Fast forward 21 years…
Tom Dunne, broadcaster and frontman of Irish rock band Something Happens, who played the very first Féile in 1990, was invited to organise and curate a one-off one-day revival of the festival, under the name Féile Classical, in the Semple Stadium in September 2018.
He brought together a selection of Irish acts from the 1990s glory days, with The Stunning, Hothouse Flowers, An Emotional Fish, The 4 of Us, and The Frank and Walters, all taking to the stage. Dunne said: “Féile was special, it was iconic, it was our Woodstock and Féile Classical will be an even bigger, better, louder explosion of the best of those days and so much more.”
The event was very different to the Trip To Tipp of the ’90s – fully seated, with luxuries like a choice of clean toilets, gourmet vegan food stalls, and a selection of pop-up gin and Prosecco bars – a far cry from ham sandwiches and slabs of beer from the local convenience store. What it shared was its success and the obvious love from its audience.
So much so that it’s back in 2019. No longer a one-day event called Féile Classical, now it’s the Tipp Classical 2019 weekend (September 20/21) – which might as well be the Trip to Tipp, or close enough for jazz, in any case.
The line-up includes The Stunning, The Sultans of Ping, The Frank and Walters, Therapy? and Wendy James of Transvision Vamp. As Dunne said: “The Trip to Tipp is back and it needs to stay.”
The Tipp Classical 2019 weekend is just one of many excellent festivals and events to be enjoyed throughout Tipperary.
The Clonmel Junction Festival (3-9 July) features an exciting new cabaret venue, some pop-up art installations in the heart of the town, a host of music and theatre shows, and lots of ways to get involved either as a spectator or performer.
There’s fun and nostalgia aplenty at It’s a Long Way To Tipperary (14-15 July), during which Tipperary town is transported back to the 19th Century through a mix of beautiful vintage cars and clothing, horses and carts, and traditional music, song and dance.
The Cashel Arts Festival (19-22 September) uses the town’s heritage sites, including the ancient and iconic Rock of Cashel, as dramatic backdrops to a fine selection of contemporary arts events. Take your pick from music, dance, visual arts, film, theatre, workshops, family events and literature events.
Some of Ireland’s best amateur musical theatre groups are showcased at the Carrick Music Theatre Festival in Carrick-on-Suir (4-6 November), while Clonmel Applefest (27-29 September) brings the town’s medieval heart to life with a celebration of its industrial and agricultural heritage. Enjoy a wide range of events around all things apple, food and biodiversity – including craft activities, apple pressing, delicious local foods, storytelling, talks and walks, tastings and a community street feast.
Also celebrating the bounty of Tipperary’s rich and fertile lands is A Taste of Lough Derg, a series of food events around the towns and villages of the Lough Derg Lakelands running from June to September.
Click here for more information about What’s on in Tipperary.