Monday 11 December 2017

Eoin Colfer: This is Wexford's day

Eoin Colfer
Eoin Colfer

Author Eoin Colfer delivered these words from the stage on the quay front just before the fireworks began last Wednesday evening

It's very special for me to be here on the quay where I have walked so many times – in the shadow of the Twin Churches to one side and the Ballast Bank to the other. Flanked by two Wexford boys, Mayor George Lawlor and festival chairman Ger Lawlor, that I have known for 30 years. Look at us, kids – if you don't eat your vegetables, this is what happens.

Especially nice to be here with Jackie, the Wexford girl I married during the 40th Wexford Festival Opera, and to be able to look down on Finn and Seán in the crowd.

In fact all three of us Wexford boys are married for some time to three of the happiest women in Wexford. Extensive surveys around the world have proven that it is every woman's dream to marry a wexford man – isn't that right?

This is Wexford's day. For 62 years we have gathered here and turned our faces to the sky. The child in every one of us looks forward to this day and we are proud of it. The fireworks. We speak of them in the same breath as Christmas and St Patrick's day. That day when the shops run out of ice cream cones and there is a 97 per cent chance that it will rain.

We see fireworks on the television at the Olympics or Times Square and we are not impressed – we've been doing fireworks much better than that for years.

Our fireworks fly so high that they can be seen in Enniscorthy – which is the whole point.

What is it about Wexford people that makes us so unique? Why does culture flourish here even in hard times – especially in hard times? What does it mean to be from Wexford?

This is what we are. We are storytellers. We are drama groups and arts centres. We are dance academies and seanachís, playwrights and journalists with an integrity that is refreshing these days. We are novelists. We are gathered by the river and the sea watched over by the Blackwater lightship under a handful of stars from our perch on the Bower Wall.

We hold our gatherings at meal time. We are Italian and Chinese. We are Greek and French. We are rissoles and chips. We love a nice cuppa tea and a jaffa cake if you're opening them. And sports – we live for our huring and football. The purple and gold are our favourite colours. And now we have pink too. In boxing we punch above our weight. In kettlebells we are the best swingers in the world... congrats to the Wexford contingent of the Irish Kettlebell Club who just returned from the world championships. Our camogie players are surely descended from the Fianna, so fierce and skilled are they on the field of play.

We are music. We love it to our bones. We are the singing pubs and the swinging pubs and two people who know the difference. We are soirées and musicals and light operas and the best pantomimes in the country. We are the water and the wine, the sky and the ground, little miss sunshine, all 24 hours a day from South East Radio DJs, who we don't listen to just because they are local – it's because they are the best. We do the shamrock shuffle, we dance at the crossroads, we laugh before sunset and we cry before dawn. We are kids with guitars and drums in someone's garage all the way to the Jeromes Hynes theatre and the Spiegeltent.

We are the people. We are Menapians all, and our arms are welcoming. We are Mexico city, we are Bordighera, we are Warsaw and New York. We are London and even occasionally Kilkenny when we are feeling especially forgiving.

We are the past. We remember the clash of 1996 ash. We walk Viking streets. We all have a bit of Norman in us. We are the sea and its bounty of mussel and lobster and we are the last stop before America. We are Hook Lighthouse and Selskar Abbey. We sit on Vinegar Hill with our ancestors watching the cannon below.

Tonight. We are the spaces in the crowd. The spaces where our loved ones were. I still feel my father's right hand on my shoulder and see the other pointing towards the sky. We are the memories of fizzy orange and ninety-nines. We are our parents and grandparents and even sons and daughters who once shared this Wexford night. But even though this is a night to remember those who have gone, it is not a night for grieving but a celebration, for the fireworks will light their faces and the music will surely be heard on high, for it is divine.

We are unusual. No one talks like we us. We fasten our lacens. We are howya huns. Everyone is writing a book or a play or in a group. There is not one ordinary person in the whole town or maybe we are all ordinary. But we are all individuals.

We are the Festival Opera. It is ours and we are experts. We love to see the artists arrive every autumn. We discuss with great animation which is the best opera. Whether Verdi is Italy's greatest composer or was it in fact Puccini. These are not conversations heard in every town. But we are not every town. We are Wexford. Mighty mighty wexfordv – and we lead the way in so many things. And I am delighted to be a Wexford man to be allowed to say:

Everywhere I go

People always ask me

Who we are

Where do we come from

And we tell them

We're from Wexford.

Mighty mighty Wexford.

And what better way to declare this festival open!

Wexford People

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