The First Citizen returned home to West Belfast last night to launch the print and online coverage of Féile an Phobail in the Belfast Media Group titles.
Addressing a gathering of business, community and political leaders at the Belfast Media Group offices on the Hannahstown Hill, Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon said she was "a huge fan" of Féile.
"It captures the spirit and verve of Belfast and is one of our greatest festivals," she said. "In my lifetime, I've seen the Féile go from strength to strength and by the evidence of this year's diverse and vibrant programme, it is set to scale new heights."
Launch guests toured the press hall to see the special Féile supplement being published before hearing from Cllr Sarah Holland of South Dublin County Council and Delta Print managing director Terry Cross.
"Over the course of the last 20 years the Féile has developed and expanded in the same way that Delta has developed and grown – with the support of local people," said Terry Cross. "With a production base in Belfast and Chennai, Southern India, Delta currently ships packaging products throughout Ireland, the UK, Western Europe and the Indian sub-continent. Each year our Belfast base manages a supply chain which produces and distributes over 2.5 billion cartons to clients throughout Europe."
And the Delta Print founder said the recent investment of £40m in his Kennedy Way plant would create more employment in West Belfast.
"Not only will this investment result in the creation of a further 100 skilled jobs, bringing the total Delta workforce to over 700 people, but it will also enhance our capability to service our global clients in a timely, cost effective manner."
Among those in attendance were Marie Quiery of the Outburst Queer Arts Festival, Nisha Tandon of Arts Exta, Tony McCusker, Chair Community Foundation NI, Howard Hastings, Chair NI Tourist Board, Aisling Ní Labhra of An Chultúrlann, artist Deirdre Mackel and Féile Director Kevin Gamble. Among political representatives were Gerry Kelly MLA, Cllr Tim Attwood, Cllr Caoimhín Mac Giolla Mhín, Rosie McCorley MLA, and Paul Maskey MP.
On her first official visit back to her native West Belfast since her election to South Dublin County Council, Cllr Sarah Holland said the festival started when she was ten-year-old — in much darker times for the city.
"The concept of the festival was to change the perception of Belfast to promote a positive experience for us and to showcase our creativity," she said. "The festival would open the world to us and us to the world. It started with street parties and bouncy castles which spread all over the West and which were a massive novelty. As we got older, visitor numbers increased and the festival became something we became genuinely excited about, especially the international night. It opened doors to different cultural experiences, different types of music and became a tourist attraction in itself. Féile an Phobail, as well as providing a new generation with brilliant memories, has been instrumental in the economic regeneration and community spirit that Belfast is now famous for."
Cllr Holland said the positive influence of Féile can't be overestimated. "We all get that holiday feeling when it starts and seeing the big tent going up in the Falls park gives me that same feeling I had as a kid waiting on the bouncy castle at the street party."