FÉILE roared back this year with a incredible line-up which proves in spades that the Covid hiatus has done nothing to dampen the vision and enthusiasm of staff and volunteers – or the appetite of the public for the annual feast of culture, art, entertainment and education. And it’s still not over.
The events are being comprehensively covered in this paper, both in print and online, but what is equally deserving of our appreciation is something that, paradoxically, is little spoken of thanks entirely to the success of the project.
The Upper Springfield Colour Fun was spectacular!— Féile an Phobail (@FeileBelfast) August 9, 2022
Community, positivity, families enjoying the sun, and promoting health and well-being.
What a great event! pic.twitter.com/SuY51xLNvs
Féile was conceived as an alternative to the summers of chaos and mayhem that condemned communities here to an August cycle of unrest and chaos. Every one of the 30-plus years since the first Féile has seen an improvement in the lives of ordinary people – a move away from disorder to a celebration of community that doesn’t reject the righteous anti-internment rage and solidarity that marked the Augusts of yesteryear, but rather harnesses it to turn that raw energy into progress and creativity.
This year we are closer than we have ever been to declaring the long August battle for the hearts and minds and streets of West Belfast won. For some years now the bonfires have been increasingly isolated outbreaks orchestrated by a handful of hard-to-reach young people. But this year is the first year that the Andersonstown News has done no reporting on bonfires and the anti-social behaviour that is so closely attached to them. And in the year of our 50th anniversary, that is something worth shouting about. And it is something worth thanking Féile for. Again.
There’s a template there that could, if the will existed in certain quarters, improve the summer experience of the entire city. No-one is suggesting that bonfires could or should be excised from the loyalist cultural calendar, but if the loyal orders and political unionism paid closer attention to Féile week, they would see that the Eleventh Night need not be a sectarian scream of anger and impotence. And they would see that the Twelfth parade need not be a beer can-littered free-for-all on which the vast majority of the city turns its back.
Not a bonfire in sight!— Clogher Head (@ClogherHead1) August 9, 2022
Well done! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 https://t.co/hoVS3Ng150
The damage wrought to community relations here during the summer is as predictable as it is depressing. No matter how many small steps forward may be taken in the rest of the year, we see a massive lurch backwards as we spend what should be months of holidays, fun and festivals scarred by sordid sectarian slanging matches.
So there’s the invite and there’s the challenge for unionist and loyal order leaders. Look beyond teenagers at a Wolfe Tones concert to the richness and variety of what Féile offers not just to West Belfast, but to the whole city, the island, and to the international community. Observe the difference that can be made with the will and the determination to change the face of our summer, not just in one part of our city, but right across it.