Author Shane Hegarty, engaging with pupils from Scoil Aodh Rua agus Nula prior to the launch of Wainefest in Donegal Castle. Photo: Thomas Gallagher
Wainfest, the arts and book festival for children, has been engaging and entertaining Donegal children over the past two decades.
Now in its 21st year, the initiative of Donegal County Council cultural services division has grown into a celebration that includes 119 events in nearly three dozen locations across the county.
Wainfest runs this year from October 7th to 15th. The theme for this year’s festival is “Unleash the Magic”, a tribute to the 20th anniversary of JK Rowling’s extraordinary series of Harry Potter novels.
“The variety of events that we have is amazing,” Donna Cavanagh, senior executive librarian with the Donegal library service, said.
The festival offers 88 events as part of its schools programme and the Wainfest family programme has also grow from year to year - there are 31 family events this year alone. Most events require pre-booking, and early booking is encouraged to avoid disappointment.
Addressing the launch of Wainfest in Donegal Castle recently, Donna said the festival will introduce children to an array of arts, culture and heritage, from dance to drama, nature to science, music, art and history.
There are events to celebrate literary fiction, comedy and children’s literature, Irish language events, science workshops and biodiversity field trips, and many events for families.
Donna said Wainfest provides opportunities for children to realise their potential, “and particularly their creative potential, and to get involved and learn things they might not necessarily be able to access otherwise”.
That is the premise of the government’s Creative Ireland project, the five-year initiative designed to enable creativity in every community across the country. In fact, when then-Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, TD, launched Creative Ireland, he held up Donegal’s Wainfest as the event that best illustrated the values and aspirations that underpin Creative Ireland.
Wainfest this year has also been nominated for an Excellence in Local Government Award under the Best Library Service category.
“Wainfest embodies everything that Creative Ireland is all about,” Eileen Burgess, manager of the council’s cultural services division, said. “It’s all about our values, it’s all about our aspirations, it’s all about children, creativity and cultural engagement. It’s everything that Creative Ireland holds dear."
The theme of this year's Wainfest is "Unleashing the Magic." Above, Donegal young people attended the Wainfest launch at Donegal Castle. Photo: Thomas Gallagher
A wealth of events
On the ground, that means a wealth of events and activities for children and families over the nine days of the festival.
“It’s across the county,” Donna said. “We have events from Arranmore Island, to Carndonagh, to Bundoran.” Cultural services and the library service have played a leading role in Wainfest, and have developed partnerships with local community groups and businesses involved in festival events.
Here's just a sampling of Wainfest's reach: There is a special Lottie and Friends workshop on Oct. 14th at the Central Library in Letterkenny, where Lottie Dolls of Donegal Doll Company will invite children to join Lottie, Finn and friends for an hour of art, stories and science; there’s a farming workshop with AgriKids on Oct. 12th at Mevagh Family Resource Centre; a family activity day to launch A Guide to the Birds of Inch Wildfowl Reserve (Oct. 8th, An Grianán Hotel in Burt and Inch Wildfowl Reserve); a workshop on Army survival skills with a 28th Infantry Battalion Defence Force instructor (Oct. 9th, Donegal County Museum); a family cookout with celebrity chef Kieran Duey of Nancy’s Barn (Oct. 15th at Red Roof Barn, Doagh Family Village); a workshop on the magic of coding (Oct. 10th, Carndonagh Community Library); and Fab Lab in Derry will bring the magic of a 3D printer to Buncrana Community Library (Oct. 12th) and Leabharlann Ghaoth Dobhair (Oct. 13th).
Donegal youngsters enjoy a Farming for All event at an earlier Wainfest.
Visits from authors
Wainfest also features visits from a number of authors including Dave Rudden, author of the award-winning trilogy, Knights of the Borrowed Dark (Oct. 10th, Twin Towns Community Library; and Oct. 11th, Bundoran Community Library); Jim Smith, Roald Dahl Funny Prize winner and author of the Barry Loser series (Oct. 13th, Buncrana Community Library); and Dan Freedman, author of the Jamie Johnson books (Oct. 9th, Carndonagh Community Library and Buncrana Community Library; and Oct. 10th, Central Library Letterkenny and Milford Community Library).
Shane Hegarty, Irish Times journalist and author of the popular Darkmouth series, was special guest at the Wainfest launch, engaging with pupils from Scoil Aodh Rua agus Nuala in Donegal town.
And to mark the 20th anniversary of the magical Harry Potter, Buncrana Cinema, Century Cinemas in Letterkenny, Eclipse Cinema in Bundoran and Eclipse Cinemas Lifford & Strabane will present a special screening of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” on Oct. 15th.
There is much more. The full Wainfest programme is available online at wainfest.ie.
It’s not surprising that Donegal’s library service has been at the heart of Wainfest all these years. Donna said that while books remain the backbone of libraries, libraries have also evolved into dynamic community hubs across the county, spanning a broad range of interests and offering a wealth of opportunities.
“They’re vibrant, busy, very active places,” she said. “You can come in and surf the net, use our free WiFi, come and join a book club. There are rhyme-time sessions, storytelling, singing and song for preschool and we have a vast array of online resources through our website, including hundreds of online courses for adults - languages to digital photography.”
The library service’s online resources are available at the website, http://www.donegallibrary.ie. A new video at the website provides an overview of the breadth of services that libraries provide, featuring Donegal people of all ages talking about what brings them to their local library.
“All you need is your library card,” Donna said. “A library card just opens up the world to so much possibility.”
At the Wainfest launch at Donegal Castle, Cllr. Gerry McMonagle, Donegal County Council cathaoirleach, recalled the words of novelist Graham Greene, who said, “There's always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”
“This festival is one of those moments,” the council cathaoirleach said.