“We have to tell Amelia’s story”

The Mayor of Derry, Alderman Maurice Devenney, pictured with Amanda Doherty, at the launch of the programme for the Earhart Festival. (1105SL01)
The Mayor of Derry, Alderman Maurice Devenney, pictured with Amanda Doherty, at the launch of the programme for the Earhart Festival. (1105SL01)

Ollie Green has just returned to the Greater Shantallow Community Arts offices after officially launching next week’s Earhart Festival.

It’s been raining all morning and Ollie is soaked to the skin.

The Mayor of Derry, Alderman Maurice Devenney, pictured with Amanda Doherty, Ollie Green, Earhart Festival committee and pupils from St Pauls PS, at the launch of the programme for the Earhart Festival. (1105SL03)

The Mayor of Derry, Alderman Maurice Devenney, pictured with Amanda Doherty, Ollie Green, Earhart Festival committee and pupils from St Pauls PS, at the launch of the programme for the Earhart Festival. (1105SL03)

“You know it’s Earhart Festival time when it’s pouring from the heavens,” quips one office worker.

In previous years the Earhart Festival has been held during the month of August but this year the organising committee decided to host the festival during the month of May so it would coincide with the 80th anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s landing in Gallagher’s field in Derry.

“I researched what the weather’s like in May for the last ten years and apparently it’s always a decent month but the weather today doesn’t fill you with confidence,” says Ollie.

It’s still raining outside but one look at this year’s festival programme would make even the most cynical person hope for good weather.

This year’s Earhart Festival is the 13th and perhaps the most impressive. There’s fine balance struck between entertainment and education, the twin pillars of the approach of the organising committee.

Well-known reality television personality ‘Chico’ will be making an appearance, but there’s also an inaugural Amelia Earhart lecture which will focus on the achievements of local pioneering women.

“I think there’s a really good mix of events,” says festival co-ordinator Ollie. “There’s something for young children, teenagers, adults and older people. It’s going to be a busy few days. It all starts on Wednesday May 16 and runs right through to Earhart Day on May 21.”

Ollie adds: “Although the Earhart Festival is organised by Greater Shantallow Community Arts, it is a city-wide festival.

“We want people from all over to come and enjoy what the festival has to offer and I suppose one of the most wide-ranging events that will take place is the Walled City Traditional Music Feile that will take place in many of the bars around the city centre next Saturday.”

It’s during the interview that Ollie produces a booklet that was printed in 1982. The booklet was produced to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earhart’s pioneering journey across the Atlantic and eventual emergency landing in Derry on May 21, 1932.

“As you can see this booklet was all about aviation history but through the Earhart Festival we have always wanted to explore the whole story that surrounded Amelia Earhart when she landed here 80 years ago.

“Amelia Earhart’s landing in Derry is made of such rich fabric. Not only was Amelia a pioneering aviator but she was also an author, a journalist and a feminist. She was years ahead of her time and she should be celebrated in the context of Derry.”

Perhaps one of the toughest challenges facing Ollie and his team is the fact that many local people are not completely familiar with the story of Amelia Earhart’s Derry landing.

It’s through this year’s festival, building on the previous 12, that they hope to raise awareness off the Kansas-born adventurer as much as possible.

“Many people in Derry know that Amelia Earhart landed here in 1932 but there’s so much more to the story than that.

“This year’s festival will see the launch of a second graphic novel by Felicity McCaul and Joe Campbell.

“The novel has been produced using local talent and it’s going to be published by Uproar Comics.

“There will also be the world premier of a new play written by local playwrights Jim McClelland and Carl Campbell - it will be staged at St. Brigid’s College at 7.30pm on Monday May 21.

“The play is a fictional account of Amelia Earhart’s landing in Derry. It’s one local woman’s account of what happened when she met Amelia and details the impact it had on her life in Derry in the years that followed.”

Local playwright and author, Felicity McCaul, has assisted the organising committee with this year’s festival.

Felicity says that one of the most impressive aspects of every Earhart Festival is the insistence on celebrating local talent and making the story of Amelia Earhart relevant.

“All you have to do is look at this year’s programme of events and see just how much local input there is.

“Obviously with festivals and big events there has to be the big names that will attract the crowds but there’s also so much local talent here.

“The Earhart Festival has always been about promoting local talent and I think that along with the story of Amelia herself it’s perhaps the most important aspect of the festival.”

She adds: “Another important aspect of the Amelia Earhart festival is the fact that we still have a few people living here who witnessed her landing in Derry in 1932.

“We would be mad if we didn’t try to tell the story of Amelia through the human experiences of that day. We have to tell Amelia’s story.”

The opening event of this year’s festival is ‘Messing with Music’. It’s a six day workshop that will run from Monday May 14 to 19.

‘Messing with Music’ will give local young people aged between 14-17 years-old the chance to play music and learn how to play new instruments.

“You wouldn’t believe the local talent in this area,” says Ollie.

“Some of the music being produced by our young people is top class and it’s also through the festival that many of them will be able to perform to crowds in Guildhall Square and Northside shopping centre - it’s all about giving our young people the chance to shine.”

The entire festival is free of charge except for Annual Teddy Bear’s Picnic which will be hosted by American Dreams All Stars Super Stars Show. Admission is £3 and places are going fast so Ollie said that anyone interested should contact the Greater Shantallow Community Arts office.

Other events include the screening of the movie ‘Amelia’, which stars Hilary Swank, at the Tower Museum; a ‘Day in Derry’ Photographic Exhibition at the Tower Museum; and the Amelia Earhart Gala Bal,l which will take place at the City Hotel on Sunday May 20 at 7.30pm.

“We are all really excited,” says Ollie.

“A lot of work has gone into this year’s festival and I hope that everyone has a great time and learns something new.

“I just hope the weather’s a bit better than it is today otherwise my research into what the weather’s been like for the last ten years will have been a waste of time,” he laughs.

For full details on the Amelia Earhart Festival contact the Greater Shantallow Community Arts office on 028 7135 7443.