Multi-media musical extravaganza at autumn festival in Donegal 

Thousands flock to Gweedore to hear top-name bands

by Sean Hillen

Not just a music festival wizard, he’s the latest in a line of family members who have chosen to serve the Donegal, and the wider Irish community, by providing hospitality and entertainment of the highest quality for decades.

I’m talking about Shane Barr of the Clan Barr (as my Highlander friend, Conor MacLeod, would say). 

As Barr means height or hill, it seems quite appropriate insofar as he and his family have certainly reached dizzying heights within the hospitality sector, including a company called Ace Promotions, which is in talks to partner in this unique and innovative project, Fiddles and Faeries.

Shane Barr (middle) with members of Picture This.

And there’s no more obvious evidence of Shane’s seemingly innate ‘genetic’ entertainment skills in action than at the ongoing, dynamic Fomhar Festival in Gweedore last weekend which attracted a massive 6,500 people, in a diverse weekend culminating in two gigs by ‘Picture This,’ with soloist, Robert Grace, as a support act.  

Don’t worry if you missed it, the second instalment this weekend features a more-than-impressive line-up of nine (9) different groups playing onstage, including Derek Ryan, former accountant, now country singer; All Folk’d Up, an eclectic (and electric) traditional music group; The Tumbling Paddies, a dream of a title for a dream of a team; and someone who is known as ‘Ireland’s Garth Brooks,’ ambulance officer turned vocalist-guitar player, Jason Hughes. 

No to mention the ever-popular, The Waterboys, whose top hits include ‘Fisherman’s Blues,’ ‘The Whole of the Moon’ and ‘Why Should I Love You.’ 

And last, but certainly not least, the young, say-it-as-it-is trio from my home neighborhood of West Belfast, Kneecap, whose fast fast lyrics and even faster gyrations and catchy hip-hop rapper performance will have even the community’s octogenarian population snapping their fingers and shaking their legs regardless of the need for hip replacement surgery.   

Background

Modest to a tee, when asked by me during an interview at his family-owned Sean Og’s pub yesterday how he came to be involved in the hospitality industry, Shane said, “I was born into it, through my parents and grandparents. They did all the hard work.”

In other words, Shane’s Fate was sealed even before he uttered his first cry after emerging into this world. (I wonder, just before that eventful moment, whether he organised a little party or a concert in his mother’s womb, just as a dry practice run).    

(l to r) Shane Barr, Finbar Fury and Elaine Barr.

The legacy Shane has inherited is a formidable one. 

His grandparents, Dom and Sadie owned and ran five pubs in London and after returning to Ireland, purchased ‘The Dodge,’ formerly known as ‘The Glenveagh Hotel,’ supervised two separate renovations, one in the ‘80s and the second in ’91 costing a total of around 1.2 million euro and ran it for a number of years. It had 19 bedrooms, capacity for the function room is 450, the dining room sits 120 and the nightclub around 320.

Shane’s parents, John and Cliona, then took up the hospitality mantle, continuing Dom and Sadie’s legacy. 

They re-developed a pub in the year 2000, now known far and wide as ‘Sean Og Bar & Restaurant,’ but then called as Gaeilge ‘Na Mhic Ua Gorra’ and originally established by the Friel family. Sean Og’s, as it is known for short, opened in 2001. The 20th year celebration will be held this November. Shane now runs Ace Promotions.

“They were hardworking people with a talent for knowing what people wanted in terms of hospitality and entertainment and how best to provide the kind of service of the highest quality,” Shane, 31, said about his parents and grandparents.

‘The Dodge,’ first opened by the Friel family, was closed in 1999 and now has re-opened as a hotel-cum-nightclub. It has an impressive pedigree. “Half the parish met there and half the parish got married there,” said Shane proudly. 

As for his family’s contribution to the economic development in this corner of Ireland, in the heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht, that’s easy to measure. More than forty local people are employed on a full-time or part-time basis. In an economically marginalised region, often ignored by lawmakers in Dublin, that is indeed something to be proud of.  

People enjoying themselves at Fomhar Festival in Donegal.

And now back to the Fomhar Festival.

Housed in a Big Top marquee tent down near the Gweedore GAA and Golf Club, the first weekend was a rip-roaring success, with ‘Picture This’ as top bill for two nights.

“It is the first time we have organised such a set-up and everything has gone according to plan,” said Shane. “The punters, the fans, are happy, production was impressive. It was great, all went smoothly.”   


I went along to see it all for myself last Sunday night. He had promised thousands. And, boy, did he ever deliver.

I wrote this on my Facebook in appreciation:

And what a lively, loud, frenetic, frenzied crowd it was, jumping, swinging, waltzing and swashbuckling, free from the shackles of COVID, defiant in their determination to live life once again to its fullest after almost two years of lockdown , rollin’ and  rollicking’ to the dynamic sounds of the  ever-popular ‘Picture This’ at the Fomhair Festival at Magheragallon in Gaoth Dobhair northwest Donegal. And the one man who couldn’t enjoy this musical extravaganza as much as he would have liked was the very man who organized the whole crazy affair. Shane, of the Barr family who have brought so much musical joy to so many over the years at Sean Og’s Bar and Restaurant in Bunbeg, in the heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht, as well as at the nearby Dodge night club and the many festive nights under the Big Tent under the stars like last weekend. Shane was so busy that night making sure everyone else was having a good time, he didn’t have time for himself.

So, don’t be disappointed, book your tickets now for Fomhar Festival.

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