THE curtain finally goes up on Ireland’s biggest community arts festival today (Thursday) as Féile an Phobail gets set to welcome thousands of visitors and concert-goers to West Belfast.

With the Féile Falls Park Big Top set to welcome international headline acts such as The Kooks, The Coronas, All Saints, Deacon Blue, Holly Johnson and Fine Young Cannibals front man Roland Gift, the stage is very much set for a carnival atmosphere to sweep through West Belfast over the next two weeks.

With the Big Top already up to welcome comedy-goers to Jake O’Kane on Friday night Féile director Kevin Gamble told the Andersonstown News the team are expecting their “biggest crowds to date” – and this after last year’s record breaking attendances.

“Our flagship festival kicks off today and we have had a number of events already held over in the New Lodge at Duncairn Arts Centre which were packed to capacity,” he said.

“Our marquee events kick-off with Jake O’Kane on Friday and we are expecting thousands of people to come not only the marquee events but the talks, discussions and tours that we have planned over the coming days.

“We are anticipating our biggest crowds to date. We know we have the support of the local community to carry us and support us and we are going full steam ahead.

“Our staff, volunteers, partner teams are all working together to guarantee the best Féile yet and to ensure our visitors enjoy themselves,” he said.

Asked what he is looking forward to the most Kevin replied: “There is no specific event I’m looking forward to  as such but I will try and take in take in Tom Hartley’s tour of the City Cemetery which is always popular and the visual arts exhibitions.

“We have extended an invitation to the DUP’s Gregory Campbell for our annual West Belfast Talks Back as well to join our panel, especially over his comments in recent days so it will be interesting to see if that invite is taken up”

Speaking about the Féile partnership with Value Cabs this year Kevin said: "We're both the biggest in our field, so it was a perfect fit for Value Cabs to come on board as the official taxi partner for Féile an Phobail.

“It's a great way to demonstrate our ambition to positively develop the festival, making links with local businesses and helping to make our Falls Park venue a major live arena for international acts in the heart of the West.”