*Mikey and Lee Wall performing. Photograph: Joe Buckley

WINGS festival returns what will be the third instalment of the week-long music festival in Shannon Town.

Spearheaded by Damien O’Rourke of Cuppa Tea TV, Wings has grown year on year and the 2023 run will see it welcome an international act for the first time. The festival will run from Monday (February 19th) until Sunday (February 25th).

An open session will kick off proceedings at the Shannon Springs Hotel at 7pm. Treacy’s Oakwood Hotel will on Tuesday host Blaise Phelan and Stoney Wall leading an acoustic session from 8:30pm.

Youth in music will broadcast a livestream from St Caimin’s Community School from 11:30am on Wednesday, this can be viewed on Cuppa Tea TV’s Facebook page. Later that night at 8:30pm, Ray Fean, formerly of The Horslips is the star act alongside The Kirby’s and Sixmilebridge Folk Club at The Goalpost Bar.

Parish boundaries are crossed for the music on Thursday with The Honk in Newmarket-on-Fergus welcoming Sheila Rynn and friends for a slow session starting at 7pm.

On Friday evening all roads lead to the Shannon Springs. The Achill Lads, Cyril O’Donoghue, Blackie O’Connell, Ray Fean, Paul O’Connor, Annie Cheevers, Cein Daly, Matt Bashford, Sticky Fingers and The Roadrunners are just some of the acts on stage from 6pm.

High Fade become the first international act to play Wings Festival on Saturday night on the main stage of The Shannon Springs. There’s multiple events across Saturday including a ukulele workshop, Busker’s Way in Shannon Town Centre plus the popular Piping Heaven Piping Hell. The wind down session will be held in the Shannon Springs on Sunday from 1pm.

Damien spoke to The Clare Echo ahead of Wings’ return, “I’m buzzing, planning started after the last one so we’ve been planning for a year and now it’s getting to the point where whatever is forgotten or is not done on time it’s too late, I just can’t wait to get into it”.

Serving as an integral part to the festival is the four star Shannon Springs Hotel which even has a Wings Music Lounge that contains wonderful photographs from the 2023 concerts.

Year one of the festival took place in June 2022 while the second edition was held last February. An early spring festival is much more amenable, he felt. “February is better, I followed the blueprint of the Shannonside Winterage Festival which used to be on the end of January, I thought it was a great festival, winter, cold dark evenings so everyone wants to go inside, that is the first thing, people coming inside on a dark evening as opposed to getting people on a sunny evening in June. It is more conducive to gatherings for sessions and live music when the evenings are dark”.

Shannon has huge potential as a location for festivals, Damien believed. “I know there is great musical talent here among the youth, people of my generation and beyond that, it is a platform and I want to shine a light on Shannon musically. We’ve the infrastructure for a festival that in a few years time could go really well, we’ve an Airport to bring international acts and festival goers into Shannon for the week or main weekend, we’ve hotels in the area and the best musicians, it is really about shining a light on that and making the musicians that do play here feel like they have something to be proud of”.

“My vision is that in 100 years when we’re not all here that people are coming all over the world to Shannon for a week to play and to have a week of music. There’s also sessions that people can get involved in so it’s about inclusivity and experiencing the best of music. This year is a milestone because we have a Scottish band playing on the Saturday night, they are the first international act for Wings, we’re in our third year and that is a milestone, it is one step to that vision”.

Previous concerts in the town have given Damien hope. “I look back at the Shannon Fest that Derek Barrett and crew did for two years, it was solely to raise funds for The Venue but that stopped after two years, it is again drawing from that, it is something people could look forward to every year and I’m hoping that this will continue to be along those lines that people are looking forward to coming together through music”.

Although there has been growth year by year for Wings, challenges persist in spreading the message across Shannon, O’Rourke admitted. “The hardest thing about trying to organise something in Shannon is getting people to know what is going on, you can put up posters all over the town, you can put up on social media but there’s always people after that will say ‘I never knew that was on’. After last year, people have been talking about it so before anything has gone out people are talking about the festival which is a good sign because there’s word of mouth, I’m hoping we get more people invested in it this year and continue to grow it each year”.

He added, “I think the fact it is over a week, people will start talking about it during the week and it gets out, I found that last year that word got out during the week last year and people got onto it as it was happening, I’m hoping it will bring in a few more because people are talking about it as the week goes on”.

An involvement of Ray Fean and Cyril O’Donoghue on the festival is a big plus for Damien. “They are heroes of mine, they are world class. Ray is great, he is based in Shannon and wants to get stuck into the community helping in any way he can so we’ve been working closely on the festival. Cyril has been in Shannon for my whole life, himself and Blackie are such a powerful duo, put them in a room anywhere in the world and you will have a happy room so we’re lucky to have them in Shannon”.

Success of Wings will lie in the public interaction, Damien noted. “I just want to see smiles on people’s faces when it is happening, people closing their eyes when they are listening to music, people getting involved by playing or bringing their instruments to sessions, that for me is a sign of success”.

He continued, “I go to festivals through the year, I go the Trad Fest in Ennis, I’ve a bit of an involvement with the Doolin Folk Festival and the Galway Folk Festival, I see what Westport is doing with the Bluegrass Festival, whatever I see that I like in all of them I try to bring it back here, it is a mixture of what I see that works and what I enjoy, I try to bring it back to the hometown”.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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