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Irish culture makes an ambitious leap in search of an audience beyond its own shores. How will London react to Ireland’s new found confidence? John Stephenson wanted to demonstrate that Ireland’s prowess in traditional and literary arts could be matched by its contemporary artists and musicians. This major festival of Irish culture opened on 4 February 1980, it involved 90 events saturating London with acts ranging from Rory Gallagher to Séamus Ennis to Action Space’s documentary response to the British presence in Northern Ireland.
Stephenson describes the impact as “we had emerged from the darkness, and there would be no going back. Sense of Ireland was a foolhardy declaration by the many hundreds of us involved, that Irish art and artists could take their place alongside the best in the world without deference, and were of central importance to the future of Ireland. At the time many within the Irish establishment thought that the Festival would never happen. But we were young, and reckless, and we were proven right. It took London by storm, but Dublin even more so. Never again would we doubt our own worth.” The festival ended with a showcase of New Irish Rock, just a few days after playing the Acklam Hall U2 would sign their first record deal.
This material is courtesy of the UTV Archives. It features an interview on the Thames with John Stephenson by Gloria Hunniford.