The city and region’s traders, publicans and accommodation providers experienced their busiest weekend of the year to date, industry experts have said, as thousands of visitors flocked to Waterford for Spraoi 2008.

Virtually every premises was buzzing at the weekend, according to Joe Palmer, South East Regional Manager of Bord Failte. “Once again Spraoi has demonstrated that it is a growing international event, attracting huge numbers of visitors to the city for the Bank Holiday Weekend. The feedback we have received was that the visitors were very impressed with the spectacle and excitement and it is wonderful that all of this can be provided free to holiday-makers. Spraoi 2008 gave regional tourism a much-needed boost during a difficult year.”

Overall, Spraoi personnel were delighted with the success of this year’s festival. Programme Director Miriam Dunne reported larger crowds than previously anticipated, particularly on Friday night Saturday afternoon. Hydromania’s spectacular show at the Courthouse drew massive crowds on both Friday and Saturday night, whilst Wyse Park has really established itself as a great street performance area amongst families, according to Ms Dunne. “The Plaza also worked very well. We were slightly concerned about putting bands on stage there until 10pm on Saturday but there were no major incidents in the area and a great atmosphere prevailed.”

The Iron Tide, Spraoi’s own show, was a magnificent sight sailing down the city’s Quay on Sunday night, though there were numerous complaints from the public that the change in format meant many felt left out of the action taking place on the five ‘dockside’ stages. “We have experienced some negativity from the public about the change in format this year”, Ms. Dunne noted. “In our defence, the funds are not there to make the parade bigger every year so we felt we had to change things about, to do something different.”

Some 350 volunteers, as always, provided the backbone to this year’s Spraoi and the company is deeply indebted to them, Ms Dunne added. “Some of these volunteers put in 15 hour days over the weekend, often just taking a break of an hour in between. One downside to the festival this year for us was the manner in which a small minority of people treated volunteer stewards and stage managers, abusing them and not co-operating when they were requested to move from a particular area, usually for safety reasons. It is completely unacceptable that members of the public think they can treat our young volunteers like this.

A large garda presence was evident throughout the city centre all weekend and a total of 25 people were arrested for various public order arrests from Friday evening to Monday morning. A spokesperson for Waterford Garda Station said this was quite low given the large crowds in the city centre. Three drunk drivers were arrested during the same period