Although Age & Opportunity ’s inaugural Bealtaine Festival was held in May 1996, the origins of the festival lie in 1995.
It was initiated by Mamo McDonald and Catherine Rose, founding president and CEO respectively of Age & Opportunity, in partnership with Helen O’Donoghue at the Irish Museum of Modern Art and Grainne Humphries of the Irish Film Institute.
Largely supported by public funding, Age & Opportunity’s general remit was, and is, to promote greater participation in society by older people in Ireland. The Bealtaine festival, which encourages and celebrates older people’s engagement with the arts, was the culmination of a process which started in the late 1980s when Age & Opportunity and a number of other organisations such as the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), Dublin City Council (then Corporation) and the Eastern Health Board organised Active Age weeks and a short arts festival called the Maytime Festival held in 1995.
During the same period, groups of older people engaged in the arts were emerging all over Ireland. They were supported by public libraries and the Vocational Education Committees. In 1993 Ireland was a founding member of the European Arts and Older People Network, and this provided links with European groups. In 1995, a committee was formed to hold a countrywide festival; a voluntary coordinator was provided by Age & Opportunity and other national cultural institutions became involved. The spread of appointments of Arts Officers throughout the country in the ’80s and ’90s offered great encouragement to the festival which rapidly grew to the point where a designated artistic director was appointed and the Arts Council became a major funder and supporter.
The festival continues to grow with the support of our partners and thousands of organisers throughout the country, as well as all those who attend a Bealtaine event.