Féile Success Is Community Success
A Letter from Ireland
a Chara, August can only mean one thing, Féile an Phobail (The West Belfast Community Festival). The festival was established in 1988 by Gerry Adams and other community activists. Sinn Féin was on the rise and the response of the state was censorship, exclusion, collusion, and assassination. It was a brutal year in the conflict. Whole communities and their elected representatives were demonized. The community of West Belfast was described by a leading Nationalist politician as, “savages”. This was my home. My family and friends. We were not savages. We were a proud community of resistance living through twenty years of conflict. The genius of the idea behind the festival was the right of a community to define its identity, experiences, and culture. We would not be defined by others. Resistance would make way for celebration, exclusion would be challenged by an invite to visit and engage. The date was set for the first week of August to coincide with the anniversary of internment which was marked by bonfires and confrontations with the police and the British army that resulted in the injury and death of young people. The energy of the people would be directed into a dignified, unrepentant celebration of community. The first year I went to the gigs and events. The next year I volunteered and remain engaged for 13 years before moving away from Belfast. We hosted gigs, discussions, exhibitions, sports competitions, parades, street parties, and even a radio station. Every suggestion was met by, “OK, let's see hpw we can make this happen.” Those early years were meant by state opposition. We had to continually prove our case and challenge discrimination. But we won out. Every year the Féile gets better and better. The Belfast of 1988 is gone and we are all the better for that. Many of the young people I knew in the early days of the Féile now have families of their own. Some of the older ones now take the week at a slower pace, while a new generation of community leaders makes the Féile their own.
The Féile success remains the community's success. An empowered community that dared to define itself, welcome all, and to have a good time along the way. If you are in Belfast take on the opportunity to enjoy the final weekend of the Féile or check out their YouTube channel for what you missed out on and start planning for next year. Where ever you are, have a great Féile. Is mise,
Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.