History of Markethill Community Festival

Markethill Festival began in 1977 as a two-day event to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. All participants in the fancy dress received commemorative jubilee sovereigns. This event was organised by Robin Dalzell, a man of great vision who worked tirelessly, especially for people with disabilities, both physical and learning. It only ran for two evenings but it made such an impression on the residents of Markethill and the surrounding district that they were approaching Robin to ask that it would be continued. Robin was happy to take this on and so it was organised again the following year, and the next, and the next… …as everyone enjoyed it so much it. The Festival Committee was set up and became established as a cross-community group organising events for everyone in the town and local area, and over the years it grew from two evenings, to three evenings then five days and today almost three weeks, beginning in the last week of July and running into mid-August. Indeed, some of the original committee members are still very active and highly involved in the festival proceedings today! Following the sudden death of Robin Dalzell M.B.E on 6th August 2012, the members of committee met and it was unanimously agreed that we would continue on with the excellent work that was done under Robin’s guidance. At a meeting convened in my home Victor Houston was the unanimous choice for Chairman, which Victor agreed to do, helped by Patricia Hughes as Secretary and Betty Stewart as Treasurer. We continue to have our regular monthly meeting in the Courtrooms restaurant where our programme is agreed and rolled out each year. The festival is run by volunteers with the much appreciated support of local businesses and input from other organisations. It couldn’t happen without them! Over the last number of years Mullabrack Accordion Band has been one of our biggest supporters, for not only do they lead the Fancy Dress Parade but the members of the band dress-up, which adds to the festival atmosphere on the opening night and we owe them an extremely big thank you for their music and the enthusiastic way in which they enter into the spirit of the Festival. Prior to Mullabrack Accordion Band taking on this job Enagh Accordion Band did it faithfully for a long number of years. Tullyvallen Silver Band devotedly give of their time and talent every year to provide music at the Sacred Gospel afternoon. Each year we also invite a local person to declare our festival open and this representation is also greatly appreciated by the committee. Our judges for events often give of their free time travelling from a different part of the country, especially for the Open Evening, when they have the responsibility of choosing the Fancy Dress winners and the Glamourous Granny, Festival Queen and Junior Miss & Master.
In the beginning the festival events were promoted by word of mouth – local schools were always invited and continue to participate in events and support the festival. Posters are put up around town as well as adverts in the local papers. With the passing of years digital media has more recently allowed advertising of events and sharing of information via a Face Book page and 2017 obviously now sees the launch of our website. Instant press – long gone are the days of waiting to see if you were going to turn up in the festival photo section in the paper! Each year six to eight charities are chosen for which we raise money and to date we have raised and given away £ 320,472.00. Over the years, we have supported a lot of causes, where possible aiming to give to local charities. Past beneficiaries have included Stroke Association N.I.; C.R.Y.; Arthritis Care; Kinghan Mission for the Deaf; Newry Hospice; Tiny Life; N.I. Cancer Fund; Meningitis Research; Alzheimer’s Society; St. John’s Ambulance; Learning Disabilities; SANDS; Daisy Lodge Newcastle; PIPS; Children’s Heartbeat Trust; Neurology Dept. RVH.; Buddy Bear Trust –Dungannon; Mentally Handicapped; Ronald McDonald Charities; Parkinson’s N.I.; Chest, Heart & Stroke. Given that the festival is now so well established the events have become annual happenings with some modifications over the years. Who remembers the real buzz of excitement from the slow bicycle race? Traditionally, the festival programme begins with either our car Treasure Hunt or Table Quiz on Thursday evening. Next we have our Open Garden on Friday and Saturday and we owe a great debt of gratitude to the people who open their gardens to raise money for a charity of their choice. On Sunday afternoon there is an afternoon of Sacred Music in the Masonic Hall in Markethill followed the next evening by the official opening of the festival. This includes a Fun Run/Walk, Fancy Dress Parade, music and dancing. The Festival Queen is chosen, as is Junior Miss and Master and a Glamorous Grandmother. It’s A Knock-out normally fills Tuesday evening when we also have a barbeque, the next event is our Novelty Pet show on Wednesday afternoon, which is judged by one of our local vets and on Wednesday evening Markethill Horse & Pony Driving Club put on their annual show of in-hand, ridden and driven to vehicle classes of both ponies and horses. We also have a class for riding for the disabled every year. On Thursday from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. we hold our Antique Fair and on Friday evening we hold either a Floral Art evening, Can’t Cook Won’t Cook or a concert. The first Saturday in August is the annual Co. Armagh Vintage Vehicle Club Rally and from Monday to Friday of the following week we hold an indoor pairs bowling competition. A Senior Citizens Outing to Newcastle is organised on Wednesday and we have held a variety concert on the Friday nearest 16th September which is organised by the members of The John Hunter Accordion Band, Mountnorris. It is now totally engrained as an annual event in the Markethill community.