The Final Feile?
Tipperary G.A.A. Yearbook 1994, pp 71-72
It appears almost certain that the 1993 Feile will have been the final event of its kind in Thurles. This is the belief of Michael Lowry, expressed in a recent interview, and, while the ultimate decision will be one for the Semple Stadium Management Committee and for the promoters, M.C.D., it is most unlikely that there will be a Feile in Thurles in 1994. If there is to be another, the location most likely will be Boston, Massachusetts, to cater for the huge influx of Irish for the World Cup - provided of course that Ireland qualifies, and that is not known at the time of writing. The most likely proposition for Thnrles will be that one or two single concerts will be held at about the same time.
Even if there were to be another Feile in Thurles, Michael Lowry would not be involved in its organisation. This may come as a surprise to the many who regard him as being chiefly responsible for the whole concept of Feile and for its success to date. Michael's reluctance to be involved in any further possible event stems from the feeling of having had enough and being unwilling to undergo the enormous pressure any more. An inordinate level of criticism, much of it misdirected, allied to the suspicions of many critics that he was motivated by self-promotion and personal gain, have annoyed him intensely, given his long service to the welfare of the Association in so many areas. Far from gaining any personal or financial benefit for Feile, Michael Lowry has instead paid a high price in terms of time, effort and his own business. Running Feile has been a lonely operation in many ways, and while he greatly appreciates the help and support of Semple Stadium Management Committee and the County Board, he has often had to bear the brunt of the criticism because of being the figure perceived by most people as the public face of the Feile Committee. He has been subjected to abuse and vilification, some of which was also directed at his family, and he feels that there may also have been some political consequences. He reckons that he has lost part of his traditional support but feels that this may have been countered by recognition from younger people who have seen his actions as positive, and weighed in favour of the all-too-often neglected youth of the country.
Why did he get involved at all in this musical festival? He recalls that when he was chairman of the County Board he came to the conclusion that most people in the county were indifferent to the debt on Semple Stadium, and that there was a lack of clarity on whose responsibility it was to clear the debt. He had admired the forethought of those, like Pierce Duggan. who had spearheaded the development of the Stadium and he believed County Board and the Management Committee had an obligation to the investors in the 'Double Your Money Scheme', who had made the development possible, what then, was to be done? On the basis that the mainstream supporters of the G.A.A. in the county had already given enough and could not be imposed upon again so soon, the concept of a three-day rock festival, different from anything seen before in Ireland, gradually began to emerge. It's audience would be the young people who form such a significant portion of our population, and who would not ecessarily have any commitment to the G.A.A.
After a number of disappointments in response to the idea, contact with promoters M.C.D. through a business connection in Belfast was the key element in welding the project together.
Michael Lowry believes that most people do not realise the enormous task involved in organising Feile. It has been the biggest recreational event in Ireland over the past number of years and involved intricate organisation, superhuman effort and meticulous co-ordination. Very much in Thurles' favour was its central location and its magnificent stadium. Indeed, one of the offshoots of running Feile has been the improvement of facilities in the stadium itself. In addition to helping clear the debt, the event has resulted in over two hundred thousand pounds being spent on refurbishments in the stadium, thereby enhancing it's already fine reputation.
The Feile had not been without opposition, often substantial, and coming in the main from from a traditional element in the G.A.A., from some townspeople in Thurles, and from the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Dr. Clifford. Michael Lowry understands the reservations of the traditionalists within the G.A.A., and appreciates their point of view, but expresses the opinion that the stark reality of the situation was a debt of £1.28 million, with no way of meeting it. There was a moral as well as a financial obligation to honour the County Board commitments, and there was no viable alternative being offered. He was also acutely conscious of the disruption to the lives of Thurles towns people but felt that the £5 million boost to the local economy might have counterbalanced this given the depressed state of the local economy in recent years.
Aichbishop Clifford's criticism of Feile probably received most coverage. His condemnations were detailed and insistent and he had a complete right to make them. Michael Lowry refrained from commenting on them at the time in order to avoid the confrontational situation that any reply would bring. An opinion he expressed then and which he still holds to be true, is that Feile is not the source of all of the problems but is actually a mirror image of many of the ills of Irish Society.
He utterly rejects the unruly behaviour of a small minority, but says that such behaviour, which is not unique to Feile, reflects the disillusionment and the anti-establishmentism of a section of our society and is understandable, if not excusable, given that there are over three hundred thousand people unemployed at present. Cancelling or transferring Feile would not make this problem go away. He would also like it to be remembered that the vast majority were well-behaved and he refutes the disparaging remarks which were applied universally to be the younger generation.
Ultimately he will have to be judged by the success of what he set out to do. From a debt of £1.28 million when he took over, he expects that it will be less than £100,000 at the end of this year, a figure which he considers manageable and which could be cleared by another phase of the five-year ticket scheme in 1994. In addition, all of the investors in the 'Double Your Money' plan will be repaid by Christmas.
Michael Lowry, was, in fact, disappointed that the debt was not entirely cleared by Feile 93, but a reduction in the numbers attending was accompanied by a parallel loss of revenue. This was brought about by the intense competition in this particular atea. For example, an attempt to emulate Feile in Tramore this year resulted in an estimated loss of £75,000 for the promoters there. Feile generated additional income for the Stadium this year and was fur ahead of all it's competitors, but he still felt that Feile 93 was only moderately successful from a financial viewpoint.
Michael Lowry sees the G.A.A. at a crossroads. It is, without doubt, the most popular and broadly based sports organisation in the country and it generates enormous support and loyalty amongst the general public. But he feels that many of the people in positions of authority within the Association simply do not recognise what a power for good the G.A.A. could be on the broader national scene.
It needs a radical assessment of it's traditional role and of its own place in society. A common public perception of the organisation as representing one side of the political divide must be changed. In the wake of the horrifying carnage in the North in recent times, the G.A.A. is in a unique position to help bring about that change.
Removing the ban on members of the British Forces and the R. U.C. would be an important and far-reaching gesture which would dispel the cloud of doubt many people have about the ideology of the G.A.A.
It would also be a major step forward for an organisation which has a far greater capacity for the promotion of All-Ireland peace and harmony, than it has so far realised.