The Memories Of Mick Higgins
– Founding member of The Coillte Come Home Festival
– Founding member of The Coillte Come Home Festival
My memories of the Coillte Come Home festival are wonderful. Every evening on the streets, in the square and in the playground we would have something for the children such as skipping, orange eating and peeling competitions, crisp eating, skating and tricycle racing to name but a few. We also ran a Bonny Baby competition, a Singing Pub and Quiz competitions but the big event every year was the Fireworks Display for which we became famous and, indeed, a group of us were invited to set off a fireworks display in Galway for the late American Senator Ted Kennedy and his family in 1974.
During those years it was the time of the troubles in the North and one year we had a problem importing the fireworks but the late Joseph Gilmartin had happened to go to college with Dessie O’Malley who was then Minister for Justice. Joseph contacted him and we got a special licence to bring in the fireworks. Another time there was a strike at the Dublin docks so we had to dispatch a car and trailer over to Southampton to pick them up..
Overall it was a really wonderful time and, indeed, the festival put Kiltimagh on the map and despite late exemptionsin the pubs, there was never any hassle, people were very good humoured and were out dancing in the streets when the pubs closed.
One of the other big draws was the Donkey Derby, most of the farmers at the time had donkeys and they entered the competition and the spirit of the thing was very good. There was a prize fund of around 80 Pounds which, of course, was a lot of money in those days.
As I said earlier we tried to ensure that Children had plenty to do every night but some of the other events we had was a fellow who drove blindfolded down from the Church to Aiden O’Hora’s corner on a Sunday afternoon and was guided by a fellow walking on in front directing him with a series of whistles. And another year we had a parachute event, parachutists took off from the airfield in Castlebar and dropped into the GAA park. The plane flew over and dropped a few false parachutes at first to test the wind etc and obviously to put on a bit of a show. Eventually the three parachutists jumped and a man was heard to say “Well I’d swear to God there are men slinging out of them things” which there was obviously and they landed safely. We let off a hot air balloon another time from the GAA park and the idea was that the wind would take it towards Kilkelly. There was great excitement but it never got past Johnny Lydons, it came down just past his house as something or other happened, but nothing serious – just a glitch. But those are the type of things we did and they drew great crowds. Another time there was a fellow called Hayes from Tipperary who was prepared to be buried underground for a substantial fee. We had him booked and he was to be buried 6ft underground in an actual coffin with a vent for air and a battery operated telephone to keep in touch with the boys above – but the catch was he needed 8 able bodied men in case of an emergency. This was so they would have him dug up if needs be in five to ten minutes but we couldn’t get volunteers. Another big event was a county 7-a-side football championship and the winners, Aghamore, received a set of gold watches.
So who were all those involved in the Coillte Come Home festival. It’s a very dangerous thing to name people for fear of leaving someone out but I will do my best. As I said the idea started with the GAA Club and the officers at the time were John Creighton, John Kenny, Jimmy Byrne RIP, Johnny Lydon and myself but there was great cooperation from everyone who was asked to help. The ones I remember now are John Roynane, Aiden O’Hora, Francis and Thomas McNicholas, Michael Walsh, Thomas Carroll, Christy Feerick, Don Dillon and those who are no longer with us – John Carroll, Jerry Walsh, Aiden Carroll, John Cronin, Tom Higgins, Chris Foley, Michael Charlton, Micheal Walsh, Joseph Gilmartin, PJ Gilmartin, Joe Mulhern and Cathal Gilmartin – great workers one and all.
In 1982 the festival was revived by a group which included John McNicholas, John O’Hora, Michael Farrington and Thomas Carroll. They got it going again and it continued for 2 or 3 years but it never achieved the success of the original Coillte Come Home Festival, probably because at that stage there were festivals in nearly every town around.
So that was it until this year of 2016 when another great group, the Kiltimagh Tourism Association, revived the festival once again, albeit on a smaller scale, and it was a wonderful success. I know that they plan to make it bigger and even better in the years ahead and I’m sure they will get the same cooperation and help that we got when we started it back in 1968.
– Founding member of The Coillte Come Home Festival
Well my memories of the Coillte Come Home – One particular memory stands out – one particular Sunday night – it was the day of the Connaght final and the streets of Kiltimagh were just packed to capacity just the same as if you were coming out of a match in Croke Park – it was just unbelieveable. Roscommon played in the Connaght final that year and we had a lot of the people coming home from that. Bar exemptions were extended until 2 0’clock in the morning. Everything went well – I suppose there were a lot of bad heads the next morning But the Coillte Come Home Festival as such went very very well.
My other memories of the Coillte Come Home Festival is that it always started on the 11th of July or the closest Friday to that date – in or about that date. I was involved in the Club Crystal at the time and unbelievably we ran 11 dances one night after the other from the Friday night to the following Monday week and we always had top line bands of the time – but we always finished with the ‘ Smokey mountain Ramblers’. As I said we had all of the top headliners of the time – Big Tom, The Dolans, The Royal you name them and we probably had them there.
Another memory I would have would be that we used to have in the club crystal after the festival was over – a Coillte at home night. Everybody in the parish and everybody who was involved in the festival were all invited to a function in the Club Crystal and it was a hilarious night – a great party atmospehere. Evereybody who hard worked hard to make the festival a success or indeed anyone from the community was invited – it was an open night. I won’t mention some of the things that happened at it but needless to say there were plenty of goings ons that particular night. But it was good hearted enjoyable fun.
Back to the Coillte Come home itself the committee ran many events for the festival such as street entertainment for kids and then there was a donkey derby – I know it was run in Alt Walshes field but it was also run in the local GAA park and anyone who attended that will possibly recall exciting memories or rather memories that some of the poor animals involved themselves got very excited – if you know what I mean – but those things happen.
What the Coillte Come Home festival did do for the whole town was to really brighten it up – there were decorations and bunting and everyone cleaned up their place and there was a great spin-off because there was work for people as a result of the festival – day and night.
It was a shame that the festival eventually went – as it did but you go through those cycles and it’s great to see that the younger ladies and gents have started it up again albeit on a smaller scale so I hope it went well for them and long may it continue.
I have some of the most fantastic memories of the Coillte Come Home Festival. From the late 60’s onwards not only did Kiltimagh people in England plan their holidays to coincide with the Coillte Come home week but people we knew from all over the west of Ireland – they also arranged their holidays so they could come and visit the Coillte Come Home Festival. It was a wonderful occasion – but now when I look back at the programme of events, there was such a vast array of events – it must have been the hardest most time consuming effort to produce all these events. There was literally something for everybody – and if anything there was probably too much – it almost got confusing in the end. Nothing really clashed but there were so many things happening you really didn’t know what to do and usually by the end of the day you were too tired so you almost had to pre plan your day so you wouldn’t be worn out by the end of the day. But really it was an absolutely incredible event.
As an example – my wife comes from Killucan near Mullingar. He whole family – and there are a lot of them – would come to Kiltimagh for the Coilllte Come home week – they were that delighted with all of the proceedings.
There was a fair bit of drinking going on during the festival it must be said but the centre of operations for the event seemed to be the Raftery rooms. My great friend Gerry Walsh. Gerry arguably – it could be said – was the first man who did the singing pub thing in Ireland on a really commercial scale. The Raftery rooms would be packed to the rafters to the extent that they could not fit any more people in and virtually all of the other bars benefitted from that because the overflow probably filled a lot of the other pubs in the town.
Its impossible for me to pick out any single event that stands out in my memory
Because there were so many. Just to be at the festival was a privilege because unless you were staying in a cave during the festival you would meet everyone you knew from Kiltimagh because they all came from everywhere – because they were here during those 10 or 11 days. Just being here without even going to the venues where all the events took place was a wonderful experience in itself. There were some silly events that stand out for me – for instance there was a crazy football game with all of the most prominent ladies of the town. This took place in Chris Bensons field and this particular event was absolutely incredible. They didn’t take it that seriously although one or two of them were hoping to do a Croke park job on it I think but never the less the same ones were not quite sure which way the ball should be kicked but after a little while they figured it out. Another silly event was a ‘cowpat’ event for the best cowpat – there was so much discussion at the time about how one could put value on a really good cowpat but it was all great fun – it really was just great honest fun.
There were children’s events and I think the parents often enjoyed them more than the children did. At the time I lived in London and later moved to Birmingham but my children came here all the time and they loved every minute of it. Not only that but down through the years English families that we knew who children were friends of my children with no Irish connection whatsoever came to visit also and they are still coming here today – we regularly meet them even today. These visitors used to absolutely love all of this as there was absolutely nothing like it going on in England.
Its still difficult for me to believe that a handful of people from the town of Kiltimagh did so much sterling work and they were not being paid for this work or at least most of those people who were helping were doing so on a voluntary basis. I am not going to mention names in case I leave anyone out because really there was some sterling work done and looking back on it – its impossible to understand how they did what they did. I mean I have no idea how they pieced it all together in such a fluid way over the festival – it took a hell of a lot of thought.
It was great to see in 2016 the revival of the Coillte Come home Festival. I actually had a friend of mine over from the UK who is a reporter in Birmingham and he was astounded at what he saw this year. If the festival is going to be revived and get bigger over the next few years which we believe it will – I think everyone who remembers the festival of old really hope that it does continue to grow again – as it brings back so many fond memories for those of us who experienced the original festival all those years ago. So Good luck to everyone involved and I hope it is a raging success.
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