Q&A with Tony Hennigan – The Mayo Manchester Tradfest

Posted in Connect on July 10, 2019.

Tony Hennigan was born in Manchester but says that Mayo has always been his home. The son of parents from Attymass, Tony has spent the best part of the last 25 years promoting Irish acts and through his involvement in many Diaspora events he continues to strengthen the ties between the Mayo communities in the North West of the England to County Mayo. As CEO of the Mayo Manchester Tourism & Business Group, Tony has forged strong links with dozens of organisations, businesses and public representatives in Mayo.

Mayo Manchester are also behind one of Ireland’s biggest traditional Irish music, song and dance festivals, The Mayo Manchester Tradfest, which returns to Mayo for the seventh time this summer. With over 500 performers taking part in over 100 different events at 8 different hubs in Mayo from Thursday, August 1st to Wednesday, August 7th.

Ahead of the big festival, Mayo.ie spoke with Tony who gave us a little insight into his extensive background of diaspora work, how the Mayo Manchester Tradfest came to be and some upcoming highlights to watch out for during this year’s festival.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

Both my parents were born in Attymass in North Mayo, my mother Kathleen Walsh RIP was born at the foothills of the Ox Mountains and my Father who is 94 years young on the 7th July was born a bike ride away in Ballycong close to the River Moy. I was born in Manchester, but Mayo has always been my home. We have a house in the parish. I have been involved with promoting Irish acts for the last 25 years setting up Young, Gifted & Green and helping to found the Manchester Irish Festival, the Levenshulme Festival and helping promote the annual Mayo Day.


You are CEO of the Mayo Manchester Tourism & Business Group. What were the origins of the group?

I set up the Mayo Manchester Tourism and Business group in 2012 with my brother Lawrence after a visit by Michael Ring TD to launch the Gathering Tourism imitative, he asked us to become Tourism Ambassadors, so we decided to form a group that would strengthen the Tourism and Business links between the two areas.


The Mayo Manchester Tradfest returns to Mayo from August 1st to August 7th this year. Can you explain a little bit of the history of Tradfest and the motivation that goes into this great occasion?

Michael Ring TD, the then Junior Tourism Minister, came to Manchester to launch the Gathering initiative and we decided to organise the Mayo Manchester Gathering which was the biggest Gathering organised by anyone in the UK and was recognised as such by Tourism Ireland and the then Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar at a celebration event in the Houses of Parliament in London. Because of the success of the event we decided to organise an annual Mayo Manchester Tradfest in Mayo.


This year, Tradfest begins Thursday August 1st in Fr. Peyton Centre, Attymass with a live radio broadcast on Midwest Radio followed by the VIP Launch Concert at Breaffy House Resort later that evening and the Gala concert takes place in Ballina Arts Centre on August 3rd. With over 100 events lined up during the course of the week, can you share with us some of the other highlights that are due to take place?

There are Ten main events along with just over 90 Fringe events these take place in the 8 Hubs in the North, South, East & West of Mayo in Attymass, Ashford Castle & Cong, Castlebar, Claremorris, Ballina, Bonniconlon and Westport.

Top 10 events are:

Thursday 1st

Live 2-hour Midwest Radio broadcast & performance at Fr Peyton Centre in Attymass from 6pm.

VIP launch concert at Breaffy House Resort Hotel at 9pm.

Friday 2nd

Concert at Achill Head Hotel 9pm

Saturday 3rd 

7th Annual Mayo Manchester Tradfest Gala Concert at Ballina Arts Centre at 7.30pm. Hosted by Alan Keegan, the voice of Old Trafford at Manchester United Football Club.

It features from Manchester:

  • Fianna Phadraig Pipe Band
  • Irish musician, singer and dancer – Joe Keegan from BBC The Voice TV show
  • Fiddle player Fidelma O’Brien from Young Gifted & Green
  • Flute player John Gibson from the Kitchen Ceili band

From Mayo:

  • The award-winning singers Sina Theil and Shauna O’Boyle
  • Singer songwriter Dennis McCalmont
  • The Foxford Brass Band
  • The Turley Duggan Irish Dance Academy

Sunday 4th 

We open the 101st Claremorris Show and appear on the main stage.

Monday 5th

We open the 70th Bonniconlon show at 12 noon

In the evening we head to Westport to film a special around the fire session at the Helm Bar in Westport at 10.30pm.

Tuesday 6th

We head to the Newly opened Centra store on Station Road in Castlebar to officially launch the show at 12 noon.

Wednesday 7th

We head to Cong village at 12 noon for a public performance followed by a private performance at Ashford Castle.

In the evening, we finish the festival with a closing party at Tarbh47 new music venue in Ballina at 9pm.


I can imagine the logistical effort that goes in to organising an event of this scale, can you tell us a little more about the planning/timelines/supports that are involved and how many people will travel over for the event?

Planning starts the day after the festival finishes and continues throughout the year with promotional events during the Manchester Irish Festival and Mayo Day in May. We bring over around 50 performers from Manchester with over 500 involved in total with the week-long festival that attracts over 50, 000 visitors.


As well as Tradfest, you have been responsible for co-ordinating Mayo Diaspora events at a number of other festivals and gatherings. Can you shed a little light on them?

I am a founding member of the annual Manchester Irish Festival and web editor for its festival website (www.manchesteririshfedtival.co.uk) which is the world’s premier Irish Festival website on all search engines.

I am the CEO of the annual Levenshulme Festival, the area is home to one of the biggest Mayo diaspora communities in the UK.

I have worked with Mayo.ie to set up and promote the annual Mayo Day encouraging the Mayo diaspora around the world to get involved with the event as well as organising our own events in Manchester and Mayo.


All these events have been greatly received and have been recognised by the likes Tourism Ireland and Chambers Ireland while also getting support from the likes of Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Mayo GAA star Cillian O’Connor to name a few. Can you share with us one or two particular highlights from your extensive experiences and time spent promoting Mayo and its Diaspora links?

We have had great support for the Diaspora events from Minister Michael Ring TD, the former Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the current Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who visited Ballina on one of his first official visits to show his support. We have also had letters of support from the President of Ireland Michael D Higgins. We would like to acknowledge the support of Senator Michelle Mulherin and Ballina TD Dara Calleary and all the TD’s and Councillors in Mayo along with the Chambers who have fully supported the project.

Martina Hughes and all the team at Mayo.ie have bent over backwards to help and support the festival and are one of the reasons why it has been so successful.

We have a number of sponsors in Manchester who include The Levenshulme Pub Company, Rosgal Engineering and St Kent’s Irish Club.

Our sponsors and supporters in Ireland include Centra Castlebar and Centra Store Enniscrone, The Western People, Ireland West Airport, Davys Tool Hire and Failte Ireland.

If I was asked to pick one highlight I suppose it was when I managed to convince the Lord of the Dance and three times world Irish dancing champion James Keegan to fly over to launch the festival in Ballina with the Keegan Academy of Irish Dance.

Finally, we have previously mentioned Cillian O’Connor and the Mayo GAA team. They have just beaten Galway to qualify for the Super 8’s for the first time, will this be their year?

Cillian helped us launch Mayo Day in Manchester at Manchester United and it’s great to see him back from injury and playing again in the team.

This year’s Captain Diarmuid O’Connor and Vice-Captain Paddy Durcan helped us launch the countdown to Mayo Day this year, we were devastated when we heard about Diarmuid’s recent injury and wish him a speedy recovery. We are all right behind the team and will be cheering them on in their mission to capture Sam once more.

The Mayo Manchester Tradfest takes place from August 1st to August 7th with events happening right around Mayo. To stay up to date with Tradfest, you can check out www.mayomanchester.com or visit their social media channels: Twitter (@mayomanchester), Facebook (Mayo Manchester Tradfest) & Instagram (Mayo Manchester)

Tickets for the festival’s annual 7th Mayo Manchester Tradfest Gala Concert sponsored by Ballina’s Davy’s Tool Hire on Saturday 3rd August at the Ballina Arts Centre have just gone on sale. They can be booked by contacting the centre on 096 73593 or online at www.ballinaartscentre.com

Pictured are: Alan Keegan (Manchester United Football Club), Joe Keegan (TV Show – The Voice), Tony Hennigan (Mayo Manchester) and dancers from Turley Duggan Irish Dance School

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