No ticket checks at fireworks as fewer than 5,000 turn up
A plan to restrict Wexford quayfront to ticket holders only during the Opera Festival fireworks display, was abandoned on Sunday night as less than 5,000 people turned up to enjoy the event which was overshadowed by controversy this year.
With a full moon glistening over the water on a cold and breathlessly still night, it was a truly spectacular fireworks show which drew an audible gasp of awe from the crowd in the closing climactic seconds but afterwards, a question hung in the air along with the lingering sulphuric aroma of the pyrotechnics.
What had all the fuss been about? Wexford Festival Opera went to the expense of printing and distributing 5,000 tickets and hiring an event company to manage the fireworks display after failing to apply to Wexford County Council, as advised in advance, for a licence to allow a larger crowd on the quayfront for the sky show.
Everyone was told that the free tickets, originally issued for the festival opening night display which was postponed due to bad weather, would be valid for Sunday night and only ticket holders would be allowed onto the quayfront proper, with the adjoining road and other areas open to non-ticket holders.
That was the plan and on Sunday afternoon, metal barricades were erected along the quayfront and the train tracks, and sections of the amenity were cordoned off. Security personnel hired by the event company were posted at entry points onto the quayside.
But then everyone who arrived was surprised to be allowed onto the quayfront without being asked to show tickets. A small number of spectators chose to stay outside the designated zone.
When the Mayor of Wexford, Cllr. Jim Moore appeared shortly before 8pm to make a short speech, even he didn't know that the ticket arrangement had been cancelled.
On Monday, a Wexford Festival Opera spokesperson said numbers attending were affected due to the later timing of the event and also the date change due to extreme weather conditions.
'A decision was made on the night not to restrict the defined area to tickets due to lower numbers attending the event. Overall, the event ran well', she said.
The controversy over tickets may have put many people off, particularly those in outlying areas, but the postponement to 8pm on the eve of children returning to school after the Halloween break, was also a factor in the smaller crowd. The festival fireworks display usually attracts between 15,000 and 20,000 people every year.
Neither the Mayor or the Festival chairman Ger Lawlor mentioned the 'T' word when they addressed the crowd from a small dais erected on the quafront.
Cllr. Moore said that after storms Ophelia and Brian and 'other issues that arose'. it was great to have reached the end of a marvellous festival and a celebration of everything that was good in Wexford. 'We are justifiably proud of all the people including staff and volunteers who have contributed so much to what is an important international event', he said.
Mr. Lawlor said he was pleased to see so many people on the quay for the fireworks which 'nearly didn't happen'.
Afterwards, the Mayor said he was pleased to see so many children at the event which was enhanced by a full moon and a still night. 'It was really a very impressive fireworks display and helped to make up for the disappointment of the opening night.'
Cllr. Moore said the Borough District Council will be anxious not to see a repeat of this year's difficulties. 'I don't think the people of Wexford will tolerate it either', he added. The Festival had designated three locations - St. Peter's College car park; Wexford Golf Club and the Sarsfields car park- as alternative viewing points but the gates of St. Peter's were closed on Sunday night.
Master of Ceremonies was Maurice McCarthy who concluded the event by twice asking the crowd if they would like to see more fireworks. Everyone shouted 'yes', hoping there just might be an encore. 'You'll have to come back next year then', he told them. Some younger children among the audience didn't understand that it was a joke and were disappointed when no more fireworks appeared in the sky.
The event coincided with the closing of the 66th Wexford Festival Opera and the final performance of Risurrezione by Franco Alfano was graced by the Taooseach Leo Varadkar as special guest. The curtain fell on 18 days of operatic, artistic and cultural events attended by patrons from Ireland and around the world.
Artistic Director David Agler took to the stage of the National Opera House to announce the winners of three artistic bursaries.
The Aria Friends' Bursary was won by the British baritone Thomas Hopkinson who appared in Medea and Rigoletto; the Gerard Arnhold Award, donated by Anthony Arnhold, in memory of his father, a long-time patron of the festival, was won by the Romanian soprano Ioana Pipelea who had roles in Margherita and Risurrezione, and the Liam Healy Bursary, founded this year by Eithne healy in memory of her late husband Liam Healy, a former chairman of the Wexford Festival Foundation, was presented to the Irish baritone Cormac Lawlor who was in Medea, Margherita, Risurrezione and Dubliners.
It was announced that the 67th Festival next year will run over 17 days, beginning on Friday, October 19 and continuing until Sunday, November 4.