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Image / Living / Culture
Sponsored

Meet the extraordinary group of women making St Patrick’s Festival happen

Sponsored By

by Dominique McMullan
12th Mar 2021
Sponsored By
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(L-R) Camila Medeiros, Milja Juretic, Steph Farrell, Anna McGovern, Aileen Galvin and Karen Walshe

St Patrick's Festival this year will be like no other. Dominique McMullan meets the adaptable and creative group of women creating something very special that both honours our roots, and presents a new Ireland to the world

More than 100 events will be broadcast globally over 6 days and nights on St. Patrick’s Festival TV (SPF TV) from 12-17 March on a dedicated online TV channel at www.stpatricksfestival.ie and simultaneously streaming on www.rte.ie/culture . The St. Patrick’s Festival will also be broadcast on Oireachtas TV; Saorview Channel 22, Virgin Media Channel 207, Sky Channel 517, eir Vision Channel 504, and Vodafone Channels 201, 207 and 208.

The St Patrick’s Festival team have had quite a year. From being key players in a moment many recall as the beginning of Covid – when St Patrick’s Festival 2020 was cancelled – to restructuring and organising a Level 5 proof national Festival that has provided a lifeline to a struggling entertainment industry, to being Ireland’s face to the world in the eighth biggest national festival globally – and managing it all while working remotely. 

On speaking to members of the team, made up of nearly 70% women, it becomes clear the support and allegiance they all feel working together.  Over the last year, this group of extraordinary women have triumphed over adversity, and supported each other while doing it, from across the country. We sat down with Anna McGowan (Interim Festival Director), Aileen Galvin (Marketing and Communications Director), Karen Walshe (Artistic Director), Milja Juretic (Marketing Dept Co-ordinator), Camila Medeiros (Community Projects) and Steph Farrell (Production Management) to hear how their last 12 months has been and what we can look forward to over the coming weeks.

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Anna McGowan is the St Patrick’s Festival Interim Director. Anna joined the Festival in 2019 as General Manager, looking after administration, HR, revenue, budgets and corporate governance. She took over as Interim Director in 2020, tasked with working towards the 2021 Festival. St Patrick’s Festival 2021 would be a daunting task for most, but only a few months in, Anna feels like she has found her footing. We caught up with her…

How are you Anna?
I’m doing well! Very busy and occasionally a bit stressed, but it feels great to be working on something new and exciting, especially after so much uncertainty over the last year.

What does your job and the St Patrick’s Day festival mean to you?
To me, St Patrick’s Festival has always felt like the start of spring and the beginning of longer, brighter days; this year that has taken on an even deeper significance than usual, given that we’re currently in the longest level 5 lockdown since the start of the pandemic. With that in mind, one of the most meaningful parts of the job this year is messaging that sense of positivity, hope, and the idea that better days are waiting in the wings. I’m also very aware that at one year since the start of the restrictions, St Patrick’s Festival 2021 marks a painful watershed moment for us all. It’s important to me that we mark that in a meaningful and respectful way through our programme.

What are the best bits of your job?
Hands down, the best part of my job is the people. I am so incredibly privileged to be able to work with this team – they’re the best in the business and so adaptable and creative, even under the immense pressure and uncertainty we’ve all been under this year. Everyone is so respectful and supportive of one another, and we all get along so well. Whenever it’s safe to gather again, I can’t wait to get everyone together and just give each and every member of the team a big weepy hug.

St Patrick’s Festival 2021 marks a painful watershed moment for us all. It’s important to me that we mark that in a meaningful and respectful way through our programme. 

How will the festival be different this year?
To state the obvious, the lack of live events will be a huge change for the Festival. We’re known for pageantry, spectacle, street theatre, and live cultural events, not to mention bringing three quarters of a million people onto the streets of Dublin over a multiday festival to celebrate our national day. As a result, planning the Festival under Level 5 Covid restrictions was a titanic task that involved digging into what the Festival represents at its core.The team has done an unrivalled job at creating something very special that honours our roots, while also presenting something completely new to Ireland and the world. Without the boundaries of geography, we can invite people to view and take part in our national celebrations in a way that previously wasn’t possible. It’s very exhilarating!

How do you keep yourself, and your team on track, working remotely?
Like many people, I’ve struggled to adapt to remote working; and working apart from the rest of the team has been tough. You don’t get the same sense of spontaneity if you’re scheduling all your calls, and you miss out on those “hallway moments” where you bump into each other and end up solving a problem or coming up with a great idea by chance. Myself and the senior team have done our best to cultivate an open (virtual) door atmosphere where everyone knows they can just drop each other a line no matter how big or small the question, and we’ve made sure to have regular teamwide calls,as well as virtual gatherings to catch up and not talk about work.

What is a lesson you have learned this year?
You’d be surprised at what you can adapt to, and how many opportunities come along when you have to do things a little differently.

Aileen Galvin is the Festival’s Marketing and Communications Director. Along with her department, she takes the Festival and its content and makes sure as many people as possible out there know it’s on; understand what the Festival is, who it is for and how to access it. 

How are you Aileen? 
Exhausted and elated. Working on St Patrick’s Festival this year has been a maelstrom of emotions, a real rollercoaster for every individual team member, whose roles have changed immeasurably. We had to plan for multiple festival scenarios from last summer, not knowing what level of restrictions the country would be in eight months down the road. When we got to the end of 2020, we realised we had to make a pandemic proof Festival if we had any chance of making it happen and so we made the call to move everything to a digital format. 

Despite saying in January ‘let’s keep this simple’ our ambition focused on getting as much of our programme funding out to our communities – artists, performers, arts workers, live events crews, pageant companies, tourism providers and many more – which has led to more than 100 events on this year’s line-up. A joy to facilitate and see coming together, but it does take its toll, both physically and mentally, making that happen in just eight weeks. I’m looking forward to enjoying sleep-ins, gardening and walking dogs.

What was your experience last year, when the Festival was cancelled?
It was a strange time. We were still making ‘sure all your need is some flat 7up’ jokes about Covid at that stage, I don’t think anyone really understood the devastation that was coming down the line. The on/off/on/off scenario took a heavy toll on everyone, added to the personal anxiety of not knowing or understanding what this disease meant from a personal perspective, how was this going to affect my family, my husband, my children, my elderly Mum living in another county, my friends, my business. It was a first time for everyone scenario, there was no one to turn to about it, to ask advice because no one had dealt with anything like this before.

Ramping down a festival, with more than 3000 participants, spread over 5 days and nights across 30+ venues throughout Dublin was like bringing a super tanker from full speed to full stop, reversing mid ocean and heading for the nearest port. The disappointment of thousands of hours of work and planning being cancelled, all in the public eye and at the centre of a very loud ‘Should we? Shouldn’t we?’ media storm was challenging and stressful. 

Ramping down a festival, with more than 3000 participants, spread over 5 days and nights across 30+ venues throughout Dublin was like bringing a super tanker from full speed to full stop

What does your job and the St Patrick’s Festival mean to you?
This is the chance to show who we really are, how we live, how we enjoy ourselves, how we remember, what is important to us. The pandemic has proven now how important arts experiences and live events of all kinds are to every citizen. They are an intrinsic part of all our lives, whether we name it ‘arts’ or not. Without our music, books, films,TV shows, the ordinary everyday things that we do to relax, to inform ourselves, to bring us joy and escape, and make us think about concepts and ideals outside of our own immediate circle, this pandemic would have been unbearable. 

We need to support and sustain our artists and performers, our makers and creators, our livecrews and venues, without them our lives are empty, our ability to understand the world around us becomes limited and insular. This is what makes working back-to-back 16-hour days’ worth it. To know that whatever happens, whoever watches, whatever people say, I know we’ve done our best to get money and opportunities out to our communities, get people working, give people back their sense of purpose, their confidence in the artistic practices they have committed their lives to, get up with a purpose and go to bed with fulfilment, whether that’s a musician or a writer, a lighting designer or a filmmaker, a roadie or a venue owner. Every single one of us wants to work, to create, to earn our living, to make a difference, to be part of something bigger.

How has this year been different for you?
It’s been incomparable to anything else I’ve ever worked on. For a start I am working remotely from Limerick, we moved back here after 25 years in Dublin just a few months ago. I’ve worked for myself by and large for the last 17 years and I am used to splitting my time between a home office, a Dublin city office and client locations.

 I miss the laughs and the late night giddiness and being able to have a rant or listen to a rant, just to release pent up frustrations. There are members of my team I haven’t even ever met in real life! That is bizarre, but also incredibly difficult. The ‘high’ of working festivals is the coming together as a family, the early mornings, the late late nights, the last minute mess ups, the delayed boats and planes, the crowds arriving and the go, go, go. We miss all of that. The festival community across Ireland does.

As Artistic Director of the Festival Karen Walshe creatively sets the theme for the year and subsequently programmes the events. She’s the woman curating all the various strands of the Festival, and making sure it all feels right, while keeping in mind the creatives, the audience and the Festival’s partners. Above all else, she makes sure the show is entertaining and exciting. We caught up with her. 

How are you Karen?
Tired, excited and nervous! After weeks of long hours creating this year’s programme, I, along with the entire team are eager to go live on SPF TV and Oireachtas TV with 6 days and nights of entertainment, from 12th March.  We are under pressure in this final week to ensure this new technical adventure for the Festival runs smoothly and that the audience will enjoy the 300+ shows we have created especially for TV. 

What does your job and the St Patrick’s Day festival mean to you?
I genuinely feel honoured to be in this role and work with a Festival team who are equally as passionate and dedicated as I am.  To work in a role that you love brings a joy and energy to my life, which I am grateful for.  I love working with creatives, and I see my role in their process as part of the Festival is to support them in the realisation of their ideas. We have a world class marketing and production team who are on hand to mind and amply the work of these creatives, and when it all comes together of the Festival week, it brings such joy and pride, and that to me is a worthwhile job. On the flipside, we find the gems that I know the public should experience.  It is also our remit to honour our National Day, to celebrate Irishness, inclusivity and acceptance in our society and I want to see everyone represented on that (virtual) stage.  

How has working remotely changed your day-to-day?
I enjoy working from home. I have two young children so I find I have more time for them and for work by being able to jump onto my desk first thing in the morning, cutting out the commuting time to and from work each day. 

It is our remit to honour our National Day, to celebrate Irishness, inclusivity and acceptance in our society. I want to see everyone represented on that (virtual) stage.

How have you found engaging with artists around the country, and world, this last year?
More than ever the artists have been eager to take the opportunity to work during this pandemic, they are thrilled with the opportunity to create new pieces with our funding from the Department of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Media and Sport.  Through a curated programme we have invited artists living all over the country to participate by filming themselves perform in their hometown, while also showing the world how and where they live and work.

Any acts you are particularly excited about?

Barróg Lá Féile Pádraig (The Big St. Patrick’s Festival Hug) – 8pm on St. Patrick’s Night, March 17
A huge St Patrick’s Night trad set, recorded at Whelan’s in Dublin, with Lisa O’Neill, Colm Mac Con Iomaire, Caoimhe Ní Fhlatharta, Séamus and Rónán Ó Flatharta, Diarmuid and Brian Mac Gloin, Cormac Begley, Rónán Ó Snodaigh and Myles O’Reilly, Doireann and Siún Glackin and Mohammad Syfkhan. 

Solas x Soulé at The Complex Dublin – 9pm on St. Patrick’s Night, March 17
Soulé is one of Ireland’s freshest young voices at the forefront of the new wave of Irish pop, boasting an impressive back catalogue in a relatively short space of time. 

Irish Legends with Eddie Lenihan
Irish author, storyteller, lecturer and broadcaster Eddie Lenihan is one of the few practising seanchaithe (traditional Irish lore-keepers and tale-spinners) remaining in Ireland.

Comhrá le Marian Richardson – Daily, 1.00pm from March 12 to 16
A series of lunchtime chats with Sabina Higgins, Panti Bliss, Liz Nugent, Cuan Greene and Dr Maeve O’ Rourke, at the National Gallery.

Blindboy Boatclub presents Creativity and Mental Health – Daily, 6.00pm from March 12 to 16
A series of five short films which explore the importance of good mental health practice as an essential part of the creative process.

Breathe and Move: Yoga with Michael Ryan and Manasi Sridhar  – Daily, 9.30am from March 12 to 17
Six wellness events filmed in stunning indoor, seaside and nature locations nationwide. Featuring renowned wellness experts Michael Ryan, Manasi Sridhar and Peter O’ Brien. 

A Treasury of Irish Voices – 7.10pm on 14 March  and 5.00pm on 17 March
 A collection of historic recordings of our writers, poets, performers and public figures that captures the soul and spirit of Ireland. The social, cultural and artistic heritage of a country can be heard in its voices as broadcaster and historian, Brendan Balfe chats to Dave Fanning.

Milja Juretic is the Festival’s Marketing Dept Co-ordinator. She works to make processes as fast and effective as they can be for everyone. With no office and a new team, her role is to facilitate as much as possible. 

How are you Milja?
Giving an honest answer to that simple question became quite a challenge in the last year. I’m alive and healthy. I have a loving family, beautiful friends and I’m working full speed. Sounds pretty ok right? I am grateful for all of it, but my life was filled with change and movement and novelty and excitement. And a lot of amazing people. That stopped. So I’ll stop here.

What does your job and the St Patrick’s Day festival mean to you?
It’s a time of a year when we gather to celebrate Irish traditional and contemporary culture. I enjoy contributing to this amazing festival. It’s how I start my year. St Patrick’s Festival marks the beginning of the festival season. The team I work with are wonderful and supportive. I’ve grown a lot within and it has become a crucial part of my professional life.

What are the best bits of your job?
All of it. Events is a very hard working and skilled industry. But I enjoy every bit of it. I wouldn’t even call it a job, it’s more of a lifestyle. At the moment this looks quite different, but we look forward to times when we will stand again together and celebrate life.

How has this year been different for you?
Let’s be honest, it was a bad year. Probably the worst in my adult life. I admire everyone who used it to learn new skills and rethink life. It was a challenge to stay motivated, but I did my best. I would say the kids saved the year.

What lessons have you learned over the last year?
I guess you learn as you go. With every step. I don’t think I personally needed a world to collapse to learn a lesson! I loved every bit of my life and was quite conscious and grateful for it on a daily basis. I did though, realise how much I miss the crowds. And not just organized events I was part of, but crowds in general; from Temple Bar on Friday evenings to airport buzz. This constant flow of different people and their stories, coming and going, interacting and passing by. I love human noise. It makes me calm.

Camila Medeiros is a Community Arts Project Assistant at the Festival. She works to bring Irish and intercultural groups together, to create a pageant for the St Patrick’s Festival Parade, virtually.

How are you Camila?
Way better than I could imagine. Feeling so proud, excited and ready for St Patrick’s!

What do you do in your position at the festival?
We are immersed in the creative process working on things like costumes, floats, make up, performances (and now filming schedules), copywriting, storyboarding, virtual rehearsals, spreadsheets, deliveries, timetables, videos, Covid compliance, etc. Basically everything that needs to be done in relation to artists, musicians, performers, creators, arts, events workers, and community organisations!

This year we have filmed groups from India, Bolivia, Brazil, Lithuania, Moldova, Ireland, Pavee Point Travellers and St John of Gods; each of them contributing with different talents. It’s a huge variety of backgrounds, all together in order to deliver a beautiful piece of art and culture to the audience. 

What does your job and the St Patrick’s Day festival mean to you?
It is so valuable when you work in a place that you believe in, admire and feel proud of. I have worked on lots of important projects in my career, but St Patrick’s for me has something special. I feel the energy in a different way. I am becoming part of the country, respecting, learning and listening about other people’s culture even more.  

What are the best bits of your job?
I love a little bit of everything — the planning, the communication with the team, the creative aspects, the product that we deliver, the knowledge that I obtain daily and how helpful my co-workers are. Every day brings a new challenge and I am continually learning.  In the end we are bringing happiness to people that cannot leave home, that need to laugh, to dance, to feel happy somehow.

What lessons have you learned over the last year?
As crazy as it sounds, last year was the best year I have ever had. The pandemic gave me a pause to reflect on my life and I realise now I am ready and strong enough to help other people, just as I had help when I needed it. That’s my goal now. 

I also found deeper meaning in my work over the past year. I learned how important it is to create content and to entertain people during a hard time. My work is about having the chance to make a difference in people’s lives. I think it’s important to take those opportunities while you still have them. And I’m going to do what I can on my end to keep the spirit of happiness alive

In the end we are bringing happiness to people that cannot leave home, that need to laugh, to dance, to feel happy somehow.

Steph Farrell is the Production Co-Ordinator on the SPF Production team. She looks after the event licence and liaises with contractors on various event requirements to ensure that everything is set in place before production. 

How are you Steph?
I’m good, thank you. Slightly tired from the run up to the 2021 Festival, surprisingly, which is a great feeling to have again! 

How did you get started at the festival?
I came out of college in 2016 and was looking for work in the events industry. I was extremely lucky to meet Tony Killeen who is well known within the industry, and has been an event professional for the past 36 years. He took me under his wing and brought me onto the SPF Production team. I have worked closely with him and Darren on various projects ever since and all really enjoy the festival each year. I wouldn’t be part of this fantastic team if it wasn’t for Tony getting me in the door and helping me prove my worth.

What does your job and the St Patrick’s Day festival mean to you?
Well, being a self-employed contractor in the events industry can be hard, even in normal circumstances. It can be either a feast or a famine when it comes to workload. Mainly, famine this last year! But when we’re in SPF there’s some sense of routine and steady work for 6 months of the year, which is great. 

What are the best bits of your job?
Being part of a large, excited and passionate team. I always love the day when we all gather round to hear Karen Walshe (Creative Director) present the upcoming year’s programme of events. The collaboration with the key “cogs of machine”, of Dublin city, is also invigorating. We get to sit down with the Dublin City planners, the Gardaí, HSE and Dublin Fire service to pull all the plans together, without whom we wouldn’t be able to take over the streets of Dublin. 

What lessons have you learned over the last year? 

I have learned that having a strong group of friends, colleagues and teammates around you is something to be appreciated every day. I have always loved my work and never thought of it as “work”, but after this year I will appreciate it even more and never complain about big workloads or being tired ever again! 

The energy and sheer thrill that you get from producing a large scale event and seeing the public enjoy themselves in an environment that you have created is a feeling that is very hard to find anywhere else! The buzz of a positive, fun atmosphere and crowds of smiling faces is something I await patiently to witness again soon. 

More than 100 events will be broadcast globally over 6 days and nights on St. Patrick’s Festival TV (SPF TV) from 12-17 March on a dedicated online TV channel at www.stpatricksfestival.ie and simultaneously streaming on www.rte.ie/culture . The St. Patrick’s Festival will also be broadcast on Oireachtas TV; Saorview Channel 22, Virgin Media Channel 207, Sky Channel 517, eir Vision Channel 504, and Vodafone Channels 201, 207 and 208.

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