By Dan Walsh
Seventy years ago in 1951, the first Wexford Opera Festival took to the stage of the old Theatre Royal on Wexford’s High Street, inspired as an informal gathering of friends listening to gramophone music, and developed into one of Europe’s leading classical music events.
It was the brainchild of T.J. Walsh, a medical doctor by profession and an amateur musician, whose novel idea it was to start an opera festival from such humble beginnings. The comprehensive story of seven decades of survival is told by Karina Daly in The history of Wexford Festival Opera, 1951-2021, now available in local bookshops.
This book traces the history of the Festival, from its establishment up to the present day. The uneasy shift from amateur status to becoming a more professional body characterised much of the early life of the Festival. The book looks at the spectacular success of what T.J. Walsh had achieved and follows the story through the difficult period in the 1960s when Walsh felt that the Festival was taking a different direction than had been intended from its inception. He never fully reconciled with the new regime and bowed out to leave way for the growing professional outfit.
This difficult transition continued throughout the seventies and into an even more difficult financial period in the 1980s. The core focus however remained on producing an impossibly high standard of opera. The next chapter in the Festival’s incredible journey saw the replacement of the original Theatre Royal with a purpose built, state-of-the-art opera house, now Ireland’s National Opera House.
Wexford Festival Opera remains a truly unique cultural event. That it has managed to survive so many significant challenges over 70 years and continued to flourish is a testament to the incredible efforts of those at the helm and the spirit of resilience that is synonymous with the Wexford community.
This is Karina Daly’s second book detailing the Wexford Festival Opera. She published her first book in 2004 – Tom Walsh’s Opera – The History of the Wexford Festival, 1951-2004. She was appointed to the Board of Wexford Festival Trust in 2018.
The history of Wexford Festival Opera, 1951-2021, is a new edition from Four Courts Press, Dublin, 360 pages, full colour illustrations, large format and available at the National Opera House, Wexford and The Book Centre, Wexford, but will be available internationally.
An official launch is planned for October 29th with renowned Enniscorthy-born writer Colm Toibín.
An extended interview with author Karina Daly will be broadcast on Mid Week Voices (South East Radio, 95.6 FM, 96.4 FM) on Wednesday, October 6th at 8pm.