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Fenians, Fremantle and Freedom Festival

Ed

 As you wander through Fremantle in early January, make sure you listen carefully. You’ll hear the sweet sounds of one of Ireland’s greatest fiddlers, Martin Hayes and the echo back from his musical confidante, American guitarist Dennis Cahill as they capture the essence of traditional Irish music in a contemporary rhythm to uplift your spirits. Focus again and you’ll pick up the enchanting, rich melodious voice of gifted, Irish singer and songwriter Declan O’Rourke. If you know something about the hidden treasure spots of the West End, you might uncover the textured language of one of Ireland’s best loved poets, Tony Curtis. 

There’s clearly something significant happening in Fremantle, to draw such fabulous Irish talent here. Indeed, there is! It’s a ten-day Irish cultural immersion, the first of its kind, called Fenians, Fremantle & Freedom Festival, commemorating a journey made 150 years ago by 62 Irish political prisoners – the Fenians.

The Fenians were young men, between 19 and 30, who grew up in Ireland in a time of starvation, death and forced evictions - the years of the great famine. Having exhausted all attempts to gain self-government through political means, they decided to fight for independence and they staged a rising. Their plot was uncovered, they were arrested, sentenced for treason, exiled from their homeland and transported to Western Australia. 

After spending months in solitary confinement, it was a bitter-sweet relief when they boarded the very last convict ship to Australia, the Hougoumont, where they shared stories, organised concerts, wrote a newspaper called the Wild Goose, and looked out for each other. You might recognise the name Hougoumont, it’s that funky hotel in Bannister Street.

There’s clearly something significant happening in Fremantle, to draw such fabulous Irish talent here. Indeed, there is! It’s a ten-day Irish cultural immersion, the first of its kind, called Fenians, Fremantle & Freedom Festival...

They also dreamed of escape. The most famous of the Fenians, John Boyle O’Reilly did escape a year later, on an American whaler. He became the editor of a Boston newspaper and together with supporters in the US and Ireland, organised a crowd funding venture to purchase a whaler, the Catalpa, and rescue his mates from the bottom of the world, out of Fremantle Prison.

It’s a big story and there’s a big festival to commemorate and celebrate it. As well as the concerts, there’ll be a family day at the Maritime Museum, art exhibitions, Irish film, literature workshops, remarkable stories and of course, the Guinness …plenty of it on tap at the Festival Gardens and Kelp Bar at Kidogo Arthouse.

But you won’t be sitting still, there’s music to get your feet tapping and a traditional Irish ceili dance with an Indian Ocean sunset as the backdrop.

After 10 days of celebration and commemoration, you’ll have to get in quick to book a table at the primal food extravaganza and street party, the Feast of the Wild Goose, sponsored by Fremantle BID and supported by the Hougoumont Hotel and the Bannister St traders.

This 150 year old story of valuing your culture and looking after your friends is the one we still strive for here in Fremantle.

Fenians, Fremantle and Freedom Festival | 5-14 January 2018

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