Written by Julie McGuirk – Birr/Banagher Library
A virtual celebration of Birr Vintage Week & Arts Festival will take place this August 2020, marking the 52nd year of one of Ireland’s longest-running festivals. The people of Birr are proud of our festival, a time of year that marks our coming together from near and far, to honour our town’s heritage. Of course, the craic during the week is also mighty, with spirits running high as we celebrate community, culture, heritage, and pride of place!
Offaly libraries have many great digital resources, available to all library members free of charge. One such resource is access to an archive of digital copies of local newspapers, dating back to the mid-1800s. Anyone can book an appointment to go into your local library, and browse this wealth of local history, all searchable by keyword and date range. With this in mind, and with a feeling of nostalgia about Vintage Weeks gone by, I thought I’d take a look and show you a selection of articles published in local newspapers over the years which chronicle the development of our hugely successful town festival.
What has stuck out to me is how so many people from the town have been involved with Birr Vintage Week & Arts Festival over the years. From 1969 right through until today, thousands of people have volunteered their time to make this unique celebration happen. From organisers and sponsors to participants and spectators, the festival is a true example of community and the people of Birr should be very proud of this. Throughout the decades you can see that the names of committee members and event organisers have changed but one thing that remains the same is the good spirit, joy, and honour that all of the people of Birr town and beyond hold for ‘Vintage Week‘!
1969 marked the first-ever Birr Vintage Week and interestingly it was announced on the front page of the Midland Tribune that it was not, in fact, a festival, but a Vintage Week! Of course, Vintage Week has evolved over the years to become know as Birr Vintage Week & Arts Festival, but back in 1969, the Festival Committee had a very strong “vintage” vision!
Read the full article here: BVW Article 1969
I came across an article from that year which reports on the banks giving £100 to Vintage Week. It doesn’t seem like an awful lot today, but at the time it was very newsworthy! What stuck out to me was that the banks were not approached for sponsorship, but rather volunteered to get on board. It was clear from the start that the organisers were on to a winner!
Read the full article here: BVW Article 1969 2
The first Vintage Week was such a success that the committee planned something bigger and better for 1970! New aero events were introduced at Birr airstrip, including a hovercraft and a Jacobs Hot-Air Balloon!
Read the full article here: BVW Article 1970
By 1973 Birr Vintage Week had already firmly established itself as the highlight of many peoples’ summers! The “week” however had morphed into something a bit longer! Accommodation was in high demand for the influx of visitors, with all hotels and guest houses in Birr town being fully booked. The committee had to put out a call for “anyone willing to help out by providing bed and breakfast” for 120 people approx!
Read the full article here: BVW 1973
By 1976 the “festival” had gone from strength to strength, with the biggest ever programme of events announced, but the word “festival” was still carefully avoided by the organising committee! The parade was launched by Rosemary Smith a well know international rally driver. Reading back over the excellent programme of events brings the whole festival to life in your mind.
Read the full article here: BVW Article 1976
By 1981 the programme became more colourful and varied than ever before, with vintage cars making their way from the North of Ireland for the festivities. The “splendid community spirit” of the festival were commended, and it was acknowledged that the week made life more rewarding “for everyone who has the good fortune to live in Birr.”
Read the full article here: BVW 1981
Year on year new events were added and built upon to shape some of the old favourites that we all know and love. One event that I hadn’t know about was an annual photography competition that took place and in 1982 received almost 200 entries! It is interesting to see mention of a Swedish photographer called Per Acke who visited Birr town every Vintage Week. Vintage Week had clearly built up some hardcore fans over the years!
Read the full article here: BVW Article 1982
By 1985 the future of Birr Vintage Week was at risk, but as we all know it pulled through, thanks to the hard work of the committee, Birr businesses and the people of Birr town, to become stronger than ever!
Read the full article here: BVW Article 1985
Also in 1985, the Camcor Park was officially opened as part of the festival. The Camcor Park featured strongly in the festival for many years after, with the much loved “Camcor Capers” taking place there on many occasions. From the ‘Mongrel Dog Show’ to the spectacular annual fireworks, the “Camcor Capers” at Camcor Park sticks out fondly in the memory of all.
Read the full article here: BVW Article 1985 2
In 1988 Senator David Norris launched the festival and praised the “warmhearted people.” What an honour it was for the festival to be opened by “a noted Joycean scholar” and Georgian architecture enthusiast.
You can read the full article here: BVW Article 1988
In 1989 the 21st annual festival took place, thanks to “new blood” proving again that this community festival had the passion of the people of Birr at its core!
Read the full article here: BVW Article 1989
I came across an interesting article from 1991 that listed all of the official people to launch the festival since 1969, including the Hon. Desmond Guinness (founder of the Irish Georgian Society), Birr born actor Des Keogh, and Irish writer and musician Éamon de Buitléar.
Read the full article here: BVW Article 1991
1993 saw the festival celebrate it’s Silver Jubilee, a remarkable achievement by all of those who volunteered their time over the past 25 years. The world-renowned astronomer Dr Patrick Moore officially opened the festival.
Read the full article here: BVW Article 1993
Dr Moore again launched the festival the following year. It is very heartwarming to read the below article and see mention of all of the old festival favourites including the much loved Ossie Bennet’s Steam Engine!
Read the full article here: BVW Article 1994
Unfortunately photo quality is not great, but you can see this year that Luca Bloom launched the festival.
The 30th anniversary took place in 1998 and the committee made sure to stick with the original concept which was “A Vintage Week, in a Vintage town, at a Vintage time of year.” Well-loved annual events continued in yet another chapter of the history of the festival.
Read the full article here: BVW Article 1998
The 31st Festival was as colourful as ever. This article again brings back memories for so many!
Read the full article here: BVW Article 1999
In 2003 a founding member and first chairman of Birr Vintage Week died and this article pays tribute to him. “Frank Egan, as chairman, oversaw this development with an infectious enthusiasm and imagination and a wonderful ability to deal with any problem that might arise.”
Read the full article here: BVW Article 2003
This pictorial roundup was also published in the paper in 2003. Unfortunately the photo quality is not great, but you can still make out some familiar faces!
See the full article here: BVW Article 2003 2
The 36th Vintage Week was celebrated in glorious sunshine according to this article, where the parade drew huge crowds. A popular local legend goes that the rain always stops just in time for the Birr Vintage Week Parade. I can’t confirm the veracity of this but in 2004 this was definitely true!
Read the full article here: BVW Article 2004
2010 saw the 42nd annual festival take place, which proved to be another success. Events such as the Annual Antiques and Fine Art Fair, the Donkey Derby and the Bonnie Baby Competition all took place, as well as Vintage Tennis, Golfing at the Glenns and the Michael “Dom” Egan Busking Competition.
Read the full article here: BVW Article 2010
The 50th anniversary celebration was carried out in 2018, and launched by President of Ireland Michael D Higgins to great success. He acknowledged the founding members of Vintage Week and said “I want to pay tribute to their vision, foresight and imagination for establishing this festival. People like them are like gems in our community…”
You can read the full article here: BVW Article 2018 2
Some pictures from the parade celebration can be viewed here.
See more at: BVW Article 2018
Between the years of 1969 and the present day the festival continued to change and grow. It’s been fun to look back on how the festival evolved to be what it is today. Throughout the years our community have come together to celebrate our beloved festival. Unfortunately the 2020 pandemic has meant that rather than come together, this year we must stay apart. But the spirit of Vintage Week is still strong, with the festival continuing online this year. Lets hope that next year, we can all come together again to celebrate the biggest and best Birr Vintage Week & Arts Festival ever!
Until then wishing you all a very happy Birr Vintage Week & Arts Festival 2020! The Virtual Festival takes place from the 14th to the 21st of August 2020. Check out the full programme of events for Birr Vintage Week & Arts Festival 2020 at: https://www.birrvintageweek.com