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The return of The Finglas Maypole Festival after only 175 years.

Logo Design & Illustration by Peter Donnelly

Plans are well underway to host the first modern Mayday Festival in Finglas this coming summer. With its prodigal son, Dublin’s former Chief Maypole set to be welcomed back with open arms after only one hundred and seventy five years in exile.

The Finglas Historical Society, The Finglas Tidy Towns Committee,Dublin County Council and the newly formed Finglas Maypole Festival Committee are all of the collective opinion that the reintroduction of the Mayday festival will be a welcome boon to the area.

John Cromwell (Vice-Chairman and treasurer) of the Finglas Maypole Festival Committee explains;”The Village is punching well below its capabilities and is in dire need of regeneration, this festival will reinvigorate business in the area and the reintroduction of the maypole will bring back, not only a landmark but an increase in civic pride”.

There have been festivals in Finglas over the years, most notably The South Band Show from the nineties, best remembered these days as where local favourites Aslan played their first gig after they reformed.That event is fondly recalled and has passed into the folklore of the area.

At present, Finglas does not even have its own dedicated civic space. Blanchardstown has the Draoicht, Ballymun has the Axis, and The Naul has the Seamus Ennis Centre named after the world famous Finglas piper who hailed from Jamestown Road.

This doesn’t seem to deter the Festival Committee who aim to use every available space on offer. The public houses, the schools, the library and the churches and the various sport centres are all in their sights.

It is worth mentioning Seamus Ennis again, for during the festival he would have reached his centenary if he were still alive today. The festival intends to honour this giant of Irish folklore.

Nowadays, according to the 2018 census, the population of Finglas is 19,768 but it wasn’t always so built up. Finglas was a sleepy, rural outpost village until the aftermath of The Emergency (WW2) which led to a government initiative to re-house Dublin’s inner city population. This exercise forever changed Finglas Village.

The construction of a dual carriageway sliced the village in two, totally destroying the original crossroads and village green, which hosted the Maypole. Nowadays, a monument to IRA volunteer Dick McKee is erected on the very spot where this famous pole once stood.

The issue for the committee is where to host the maypole. Should it be placed beside the McKee monument or a new space found? Either way, it will be the only maypole in the Republic. The only maypole on the island of Ireland today, is to be found in Hollywood Co, Down, and has been a permanent fixture since the mid 17th century.

Lord Mayor of Finglas, Linda Emmett, said “Finglas is a true heritage village which can be traced back to 560AD when St Canice started his own abbey.” She feels that Finglas Village should have been conferred with heritage status which would not have impinged in any way Dublin County Council objectives.

Finglas, an area that has given the world some famous people such as Bono, Christy Dignam, Brendan O’Carroll, Colm Meeney, Paula Meehan, Dermot Bolger, Ronnie Whelan, Frank Stapleton and on and on. Seemingly, an endless well of talent bubbling up from the clear stream. Tapping into this talent, established and upcoming is the key to turning this event into a successful venture.

Paul Woodward, also Finglas Maypole Festival Committee puts Swords success down to the Swords ability to attract bigger artists such as Lumiere, Danu and Kila to its festival, and he says “There’s no reason why Finglas can’t learn from Sword’s success”. This upcoming festival will not be a clone of the 19th Century when Finglas turned into something akin to Ibiza every mayday.

The resulting mayhem brought condemnation from the Catholic and Protestant churches who applied so much pressure that the maypole was taken down in 1845. But, times have changed and historians widely accept that the maypole, Germanic in its conception and adopted throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom sometime in the 13th century was not anti -Christian.

It is also believed that the maypole originally did not have any religious or fertility attachments. It was more to do with the exertions of people overjoyed at surviving another harsh winter as they danced, drank and cavorted headlong into the promise of another glorious summer. This time, there will be no shaven and soaped pigs chased through the village streets by drunken revellers. Those days are long gone.

There will be no climbing a greased maypole in search of an illustrious prize; those days are also gone, long gone. Some customs will be retained. There will be a King and Queen of the May. There will be singing and dancing round the maypole and there will be flowers, lots of flowers. The festival organisers recognise the maypole as a symbol of rebirth, renewal and regeneration and are keen to reassert its significance as Finglas reinvents itself.

All involved hope that the maypole becomes a draw for people in and outside of the community with an emphasis on cultural and social inclusion. All going well, all of Dublin and far beyond may yet again, to paraphrase an old mayday poem, “turn out to Finglas every mayday to celebrate a joyful summer’s return”.

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