Founded in 2013, the original idea for the Tortosa Irish English Festival was to create a greater awareness of the English language for the people of Tortosa and Roquetes. There are over 3000 people in this area with an interest in the English language – if you include all the private language schools as well as the Official School of Languages and the primary and secondary schools, plus the university students. Many professional people in this region have a knowledge of English, but do not have sufficient outlets to practice it. Then, of course, you have the parents of all these students who have a desire that their children learn English as a means of furthering their employment prospects in the future. And to top all that, there are a number of retired native English speaking people who have settled in this area in the last twenty years or so.
The Mayor was approached in September 2012 seeking his support for a festival of English. He was surprised that he was not asked for financial funding, so he agreed to support the idea in principle. A committee was formed next that included people from Tortosa with an interest in English and one native, albeit Irish! The committee then worked tirelessly for six months preparing the various events and attending to the minute details of organizing such a festival. Sponsorship was sought and thirty four sponsors were finally secured to host the festival. It was decided to hold the Tortosa Irish English Festival during the following St. Patrick’s weekend in 2013.
The events that were chosen for the Festival were events that take place regularly in England and Ireland. These events would include the participation of young people as well as events for older folk. It was essential to the schools involved in active participation and two events were picked with this in mind – the video presentation for the primary students and the debating competition for the secondary students. Both events were well supported with a total of ten schools taking part in both. The Temple School in Tortosa won the video competition and the Sagrada Famila School in Tortosa won the debating competition. These events took place in the Civic Centre in Ferreries after the official inauguration which was presided over by Mercè Falcó, Managing Director of the Official School of Languages. The video competition was sponsored by Sheffield Centre and Escola Oficial d’Idiomes Tortosa. The debate competition was sponsored by Contropack, YKK, Terres de l’Ebre Trasnport Sanitari, Iceberg33 Maheso and Escola Oficial d’Idiomes Tortosa, Big Ben and the University of Cambridge.
On Friday evening a Karaoke competition was held in the Parc Restaurant in Tortosa. This was open to everyone. There were forty contestants and over one hundred and sixty people attended this event. The Karaoke was preceded by Irish Tapas specially prepared by the restaurant. A local man, Jordi, won the competition and all five judges agreed that he was the best of all. However, some of the entrants were very good and some others very entertaining, if not note perfect! Karaoke competition was sponsored by the Irish Hotels Federation, Aer Lingus and Guinness.
On Saturday morning, there were two literature events held in the public library of Tortosa. The first was a children’s tale, “Pot of Gold”, told brilliantly by Silvia Panisello. The kids participated fully in the sketch and enjoyed it greatly. All the parents enjoyed it also! There were 65 children and 60 adults at this event. After the kiddie’s tale, we had a short story reading by the owners of the local Irish School. There were more than 40 adults at this reading session and there was a lively discussion afterwards on the story. The prizes in the Library were sponsored by Biblioteca Marcel-li Domingo and the Irish School.
On Saturday evening we had a Pub Quiz which was held in a local Night Club. More than 160 people participated in the quiz which had 48 questions in total. The winners were a group of four ladies from Amposta who answered 35 of the questions correctly. After the Quiz Night, we held an Irish Night which was sponsored by Jameson Whiskey. More than 250 people attended until the small hours of the morning! The sponsors of this competition were Celtic School, Visit Wales and Vueling. There were spot prizes of Jameson shirts, flags, hats and other memorabilia which contributed greatly to the “Irish Atmosphere”. We are especially thankful to Jameson’s for this support.
Sunday morning began with the celebration of a Catholic Mass in English in the Tortosa Cathedral. The Mass was celebrate by Fr. Jordi Salvado and assisted by Jenny Hoskins, a local Anglican Reader. It was the first time a female had assisted with a Mass in the Cathedral! The church was full and everyone enjoyed the magnificent Gospel Choir of thirty wonderful singers who sang in both English and Catalan.
After breakfast everyone retired to a local school in the old quarter of Tortosa, Amics Dels Josepets, where a plentiful Irish Breakfast was served up to more than 300 people. The Irish breakfast was sponsored by Ous Roig and donations collected were given to the poor of Tortosa. During the breakfast, a local Puppet Theatre Company, Imaginifity, put on a great program of song and dance with actors and puppets. More than 250 people attended this event and the little children were amazed by this outdoor puppet show. Once the puppet show ended we had a Treasure Hunt in the old quarter. Thirty nine teams took part in this event, more than 250 people in all. The hunt led the contestants through the old quarter and arrived at the local Parador half way through, where refreshments were offered to everyone. Badly needed after climbing the steep hill to the hotel and castle. Everyone thoroughly enjoy this treasure hunt and thankfully the weather was perfect for this outdoor event, as it was for the puppet show which was also held outdoors. The Treasure Hunt was sponsored by Visit Wales, Vueling and Parador Tortosa.
Finally everyone retired to the Crypt for the prize giving which was presided over by the Mayor of Tortosa, Ferran Bel. The Crypt was packed to capacity with over 300 people in attendance. The Mayor was very complimentary about the Tortosa English Festival, saying that it brought a much needed cultural and fun aspect to Tortosa. He was surprised at the enormous success of the Festival and pledged to support it again next year with more assistance from the Council and Town Hall.
To round off the festivities a large number of people went to the local Parc Restaurant and enjoyed an Irish Festive Meal complete with green Paella! The Festival was a great success and everyone agreed that it is now an annual event which will take place on the same week end every year. We were delighted with the attendance at all the events. We are already in the planning stage for next year’s Tortosa English Festival which will be even bigger and better!