There’s really little to add to the body of voices that have already congratulated and thanked the organisers of the Tall Ships Festival.

It has been said in as many ways as possible.  Not only was the festival a super financial boost to the area, it was also a boost to the collective confidence and morale of the inhabitants.  We proved to everyone that we now have the maturity and ability to host a well thought out and well organised international event.  It was no doubt a huge team effort with everyone playing to their strengths and, like most things in life, by removing even the smallest element, the machine wouldn’t have worked as efficiently.  With that fact acknowledged and everyone thanked, something we can’t overlook is how blessed we are as a city to have such a vibrant organisation as Spraoi.

The experience and knowledge that Spraoi bring to Irish festival events is invaluable and, I believe, not recognised enough locally or nationally.  It was particularly interesting during the Tall Ships how many people from outside Waterford were so taken with the random street entertainers.  There were giant lobsters, people nonchalantly walking wooden dogs, towering, stilt walking fantasy sea creatures, miniature taxis and all the other tremendous acts that just seemed to pop up here and there adding to the majestic backdrop of the Tall Ships.


As inhabitants of course we enjoyed it, but also, to a degree we tend to take it a little for granted, just like we are also spoiled when it comes to night time fireworks.  It was the visitors who kept checking their watches to make sure they didn’t miss them, while the natives were a little more relaxed about it.  We need to realise that fireworks are not necessarily an annual event in every town and city in Ireland.  Some people have only seen live fireworks maybe once or twice in their lifetime.  Along with the street entertainment the Spraoi signature was stamped all over the music events.  Running live music gigs is not easy and for everyone to enjoy a good and safe time, many things need to be in place.  Most organisations running music events have the added advantage of starting with a proper music venue; Spraoi had Bolton Street car park!   It is only when you step back and take a look at what was achieved that you realise the wealth of expertise within Spraoi.

Now already you are probably wondering why I have singled Spraoi out as perhaps the same can be said of all the other groups involved; City Council for example were unbelievable in their care and organisation of so many things, the Gardai were also outstanding and what about the groups that looked after the crews from the ships themselves? As stated earlier, I have no doubt that if any of the elements, no matter how small or apparently insignificant were removed it would have created a week link and a potential for problems.  However I single Spraoi out because I want to point out where they came from.  Spraoi, the fantastic arts organisation that we are always proud to call our own, was born out of the simple act of a group of people in the early nineties literally getting off their arses and doing something constructive and fun for themselves and their community one Sunday in the summer!

Tremendous example

Spraoi is a tremendous example of the value of volunteering to both the individual and the community.  It shows us clearly how volunteering and just doing something without need or thought for financial reward can have such hidden treasures.  And even now, all these years later, Spraoi still continues to foster and depend on the pillars of volunteerism.  Of course Spraoi received plenty of help in the intervening years from many organisations in Waterford City including the City Council and the Arts Council to continue its good work.  With that help it has created a core body of arts professionals that earn their living from it today, but even the most cynical cannot believe that the original idea was a cunning, money making venture engineered to create employment and an indigenous local industry.

So we, as a city, county and country, find ourselves pretty much back in a place not too dissimilar to those early days of Spraoi.  It was also a time when unemployment was relatively high, amenities and opportunities, for youth particularly, were thin on the ground and there wasn’t much cash floating around, but it couldn’t stem the flow of creativity.  Today is just the same.  They can take our jobs, steal our money and attempt to dampen and trample our dreams of a future, but they cannot take away a willingness to make the world a better place or the ability to do things for ourselves.  Waterford has many, many examples of this.  Moving away from the arts the Solas Centre is another great example of people doing it for themselves and the amount of sports bodies dependent on volunteers is immense.  I could spend the next two pages detailing groups and organisations that are out there thriving because of what people do for no monetary gain at all.

People are out there

From the obvious ones like the Civil Defence and the Lions Clubs to small residential housing estate committees and choirs, people are out there doing something for the benefit and good of others and we are all the richer for their efforts.  Indeed the entire Tall Ships event, outside of the Spraoi involvement, depended on several hundred volunteers in many different aspects; without them perhaps I would be writing a very different article this week.

There is such a tremendous value in volunteerism for both the volunteer and the community in general.  People learn new skills, make new friends and become another healthy contributing cell in the body of society.  For many their act of volunteerism has led to a career or job change, for others it has meant a social life or circle they would never have encountered and for others it is just the joy of knowing they have helped out; whatever the reason we need to encourage it and value it.  If you are out of work right now I understand that looking for a job can become a job in itself, but don’t underestimate the value in volunteering.  Even if it is just for a few hours a week or a month the difference in can make is often incalculable and you certainly don’t need to be out of work to become one.