The Boys of Ballisodare- Sligo’s Greatest Folk Tale

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Overlooking the festival in 1978. Photo courtesy of Philip Flynn

By Alan Finn

When you think of Irish music festivals, a few names pop to mind immediately – Electric Picnic, Sea Sessions and Forbidden Fruit to name just a few.

Long before the concept of these events however, a field in County Sligo would prove to be the blueprint for the modern weekend festival.

In 1977, two ambitious brothers, Philip and Kevin Flynn, broke new ground when they launched the Boys of Ballisodare Festival.

It was the first of it’s kind in Sligo and went from it’s modest beginnings of an all-Irish folk and trad fest, to attracting powerhouses of the era such as Chuck Berry, Donovan, Don Everly, Peter Sarstedt and David van Ronk.

Before the concept of the festival was born, Philip and Kevin were already becoming big figures behind the scenes both locally and abroad, but a weekend in Cambridge was the source of true inspiration for the pair.

“Back in the 70s myself and Rory O’Connor ran a folk club called Drowsy Maggies in the Grand Hotel,” Philip said.

“We started in 1976 and the first act we had was actually Paul Brady with local award-winning accordian player Deirdre Collis playing support. We ran that every week on a Thursday night and through doing that I got to know Paul and all the acts and at the same time my brother, Kevin started doing gigs in London. We went to the Cambridge Folk Festival in August of 1977, myself, Rory, Cyril Brennan and my wife Nicola all went to it. The festival was huge at the time and the year we went it was headlined by Loudon Wainwright and there were three Irish acts on the bill – The Bothy Band, Paul Brady; Andy Irvine and Pumpkinhead, who were living in Sligo at the time.”

A full two page spread on the festival and more from Philip can be found on page 8 and 9 of this week’s Sligo Weekender- out now.

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