A countrywide series of festivals were launched in 1953 to simultaneously celebrate Irish life all that was worthy of celebrating in Ireland in the 1950’s – with the additional idea of encouraging tourism. The President of Pan Am airlines came up with the An Tostal idea after seeing the 1951 Festival of Britain. The original purpose of the festival was a celebration of Irish culture, with the emphasis on attracting tourists early off season during Easter.
An Tóstal included a national parade in Dublin followed by regional parades, arts and sporting events. Many towns began clean-up plans resulting in the National Tidy Town’s Competition and Awards, which continues running successfully throughout Ireland. A set of commemorative stamps designed by Limerick artist Fergus O’Ryan were issued by the Irish Post Office in 1953.
One of the more unusual events was the Chess Competitions held as part of An Tóstal by the Irish Chess Union from 1953 to 1957. The years 1954, 1955 and 1956 included International Chess masters. The 1957 competitions included a FIDE Zonal tournament The competition in 1953 was won by T. Kelly after a playoff. The 1954, 1955 and 1956 masters competitions were won by Belgian Grandmaster Albéric O’Kelly de Galway, and the 1957 competition was won by Czech Grandmaster Luděk Pachman.
An Tostal Spinoffs
An Tóstal gave birth to a number of events that are still with us such as the already mentioned Tidy Towns’ competition and the Rose of Tralee. Most communities, villages, towns and cities retired the festival in 1958. Drumshambo, Co Leitrim alone has kept the An Tostal festival going ever since.
The 2013 tourism initiative The Gathering was a somewhat similar initiative to An Tostal. Film archives from the festival from 1953-1957 are held in the Irish Film Institute. In 2011 Salthill in Galway stages a festival called An Tostal, which included Currach races, the winning currach team from the 1955 festival opened the festival. Could it be revived nationwide? With the will and the support anything is possible.
Festival Insurance Racket
A major problem for festival organisers today is insurance. Festivals in Ireland are being held to ransom by insurance costs with a nod and a wink from the political establishment who could easily solve this problem.
Notre Dame’s An Tostal
Notre Dame’s AnTostal is an annual college festival sponsored by Notre Dame University, Home of ‘The Fighting Irish’ to celebrate spring. As temperatures rise on the South Bend, Indiana campus with blue skies beckoning bearable temperatures, the energy shift on campus is palpable. Students flock to the quads, music blasts from dorm windows and everything just feels good.
At this glorious time, students are also facing the final grind before the semester ends. Students must also think about saying goodbye — a complicated notion, leaving the place and the people that have become home from home in order to return to their actual homes. This season of beginnings and endings is worth celebrating in its entirety, and that is what AnTostal is all about.
The AnTostal festivities and celebration includes a slew of events and contests which have become a time-honoured Notre Dame tradition. The evolution of AnTostal is significant. What began as a wild, rambunctious event in the late twentieth century is now more of a mental health check-in with students letting their hair down with events from chariot races and blazing bonfires to springtime scandals. AnTostal has become an institution in and of itself.