Dungloe, Co. DonegalThis annual event celebrated its 40th anniversary (2007) in grand style. Held in the home place of Dungloe, this year's Mary festival included a reunion of past Marys as well as a week long celebration of Irish culture and traditions, with visits to Tory Island, tours through local malls, dancing to live entertainment (concert by John McNicholl), and dinner at nearby restaurants.
Nominated by a community and sponsored by a co-op of local businesses, Marys compete in national and international pageants which feature their talent and beauty. Each Irish community, whether in Ireland or abroad, has a representative Mary who then competes with all the other Marys in a final pageant and festival in Dungloe, Co. Donegal, Ireland. The winner is crowned with a beautiful Waterford tiara and carries with her not only the title of Mary of Dungloe but also gifts, prizes, and €1000.
Formed around the legendary tale of Ireland's most beautiful daughter who fell in love but was forbidden to marry (he was an American) and died tragically a few years later, the tradition of the Mary Festival began with a song, "Sweet Mary of Dungloe," which told the tragic tale of forbidden love.
A tall, striking blonde with brilliant blue eyes, the original Mary (1800s) was thought to be the most beautiful girl in Ireland. Visiting from America was a wealthy young man who, upon first seeing her, fell instantly in love. The young man, in keeping with tradition, asked permission of her father to court sweet Mary. At first, her father agreed, and the two young lovers began their courtship. Soon, however, the father and his gossipy friends decided that Mary should be wed to an Irish man, not a Yank. They spread false rumours about the young man whose love for Mary had now led him to ask for her hand in marriage. He was denied, spurned, and eventually left Dungloe to return to America without his beloved Mary. It is said that the heartbroken Mary left for New Zealand and died shortly thereafter.
An Irish friend of the young man's wrote a ballad about the tragic love story, and years later, the ballad was revised, recorded, and made famous around the world, "Sweet Mary of Dungloe."
Some say that if the tragic couple are united in heaven and looking down on the Mary Festival, they would be honoured to know that their story is still alive...but with a much happier ending this time around.
When: July each year
How to get there:
From Dublin: 3 hours, take N3 and A509 to Enniskillen. Then A46 to Belleek (scenic route) then N3 to Ballyshannon where it joins N15. Most direct route is N4 to Sligo Town, N15 to Donegal Town, N56 to Dungloe.
From Belfast, A6 to Derry, N13 to Letterkenney, R250 to Fintown, R252 to Dungloe.
Mary of Dungloe International Festival Week
Ostan na Rosann
Dungloe, Co. Donegal
Call for specific times and festival events
Written by Joy Davis - Summer of Travel 2007