50th anniversary of Lughnasa Mediaeval Festival remembered

The 50th anniversary of the Lughnasa Mediaeval Festival, one of the most ambitious pageants ever staged in Northern Ireland, was celebrated recently by members of the original organising committee.

Sean Neeson, a local school teacher and historian at the time, former local trader Charles Hilditch and Carrickfergus reporter Peter Broad, the organising secretary of the town’s civic festival, ‘Back Carrick’ Week, took a nostalgic look back at the three successful nights of the event held in Carrickfergus Castle on August 2, 3 and 4 1971.

David Wolfenden, a designer with Woodbum Weaving Company and now living in England, was the fourth member of the committee.

“Our objective was to create a spectacular event that would not only be the highlight of that year’s ‘Back Carrick Week’, but would also be Carrick’s contribution to Ulster ‘71 celebrating 50 years of Northern Ireland, ” said Peter Broad.

Carrick Castle (Pic Google).

“After much research Sean Neeson proposed that we should recreate Lughnasa, which was the most popular festival in Ireland during the 13th century and was traditionally celebrated in August to mark the start of the harvest season.”

The Lughnasa (pronounced loo-nasah) Mediaeval Festival, quickly developed into a huge cross community event with hundreds of local volunteers both young and old getting involved.

Costumes, banners and replica swords and shields were designed by David Wolfenden using references researched by Sean Neeson.

The costumes and replica weapons were produced by students from the three local schools, St Nicholas’ Secondary School, Carrickfergus Secondary Intermediate School and Carrickfergus Grammar School.

A picture from the festival in 1971 of 'Knight of the realm' Trevor Cameron with 'ladies-in-waiting' Christine Wolfenden and Lynda Broad.

Plus, a team of local ladies were enlisted to ‘knit’ chain mail for the 25 knights who were part of the cast of the 90 mediaeval characters taking part on each of the three nights.

“Lughnasa was a real community effort with most of our cast living in the Carrickfergus area,” said Charles Hilditch.

“It was a wonderful exercise in co-operation and good community relations, everyone in the town seemed to be helping in some way.”

Lughnasa had all the elements of a true mediaeval festival including sword fighting, quarterstaff bouts, mediaeval wrestling, archery, traditional Irish dancing, minstrels, jesters, an illusionist, harpist, food stalls, souvenir stalls and side shows including a pillory.

Each evening ended with a mock banquet for the founder of Carrickfergus Castle, John De Courcey and his court, who were royally entertained by a variety of performers, including internationally acclaimed folk singers and stars of the Morecambe and Wise Show, the Pattersons.

The Lughnasa Mediaeval Festival proved to be an outstanding success with more than 3,000 people attending over the three nights.

What are your memories from the festival? Share them via [email protected]


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