Festival provides November tourism boost to NI seaside towns

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A festival which has proven to be a boost to off-season tourism in the towns of Portrush and Portstewart is to celebrate the work of one of the area’s greatest musical sons.

The Atlantic Sessions will kick off on November 14 with a special event to commemorate the remarkable collection of Coleraine native Sam Henry, who was born in 1878.

The Atlantic Sessions brings over 6,000 people to Portrush and Portstewart in November each year

The Atlantic Sessions brings over 6,000 people to Portrush and Portstewart in November each year

Carolyn Mathers of organisers Snow Water said: “What we’ve done at the recent festivals is open up by celebrating the area’s musical heritage. Last year it was Henry McCullough, this year it’s Sam Henry.

“We thought it was good timing because there’s a new documentary by the BBC and TG4 about Sam Henry, which has only been screened once before.

“Sam Henry is one of those people who have had such an international impact that hasn’t been recognised so much.

“One of the things I found most remarkable is that he collected over 800 songs from the north coast area, but all of that was just within a 20-mile radius from Coleraine.

Sam Henry, who was born in Coleraine in 1878

Sam Henry, who was born in Coleraine in 1878

“I love the idea of him travelling around all those small farms and playing the fiddle or the tin whistle and encouraging people to share their stories and songs, recognising the things that people would have called ordinary were in fact extraordinary.

“He got a kettle for an elderly lady who couldn’t afford one in exchange for her giving him 10 songs.

“In terms of international impact, you have Alan Lomax, who was the first to record Muddy Waters and Woodie Guthrie, saying Sam Henry’s was the best collection of folk he’d ever encountered.

“It’s beautiful that his story is now being told in this documentary and Coleraine Town Hall are having an exhibition of his work during the festival.”

The documentary will be shown on Thursday, November 14 when the Atlantic Sessions open in Flowerfield Arts Centre in Portstewart at 7pm. It will be followed by a Q&A with the producer and live performances.

Across the four day festival audiences will have the chance to hear Northern Ireland’s finest talent, including over 10 of the 2019 Music Prize nominees, in unique, intimate venues. New locations have been added this year such as the Causeway Lass Boat, Holy Trinity Parish, Star of the Sea Chapel, as well as favourites such as the Arcadia, Yacht Club, Harry’s Shack on the beach, the Anchor and Atlantic.

Discussing the success of the festival, Carolyn said: “Causeway Coast and Glens Council set it up over 10 years ago to bring people to the area when it was out of season. Like any coastal resort it’s so busy during the summer but there’s a couple of dark months coming up to Christmas when there’s nothing happening.

“It’s been developed year after year. Recently we got Tourism Ireland involved so it means that people are coming from all over the UK and Ireland and further afield. The festival attracts over 6000 people a year, only around 20% are from the local area. It’s great for the hotels and the restaurants – the place is packed out in November.

“There’s over 100 artists in 20 venues over the four days. There’s a free gig every hour that makes up a music trail over Portrush and Portstewart.”