Festival’s leading lady Carolyn takes final bow

Carolyn McCabe, former Chairperson of Portadown Festival association.
Carolyn McCabe, former Chairperson of Portadown Festival association.

After 36 years of dedication to Portadown Festival Association, Mrs Carolyn McCabe has retired as chairman.

Carolyn first became involved with the festival back in 1978 when, as a singing enthusiast, she was persuaded to take over from Gertrude Magee as music secretary.

After taking up the post, which she held for 27 years, she became vice-chairman of Portadown Festival Association in 1992 and seven years later took on the role of chairman.

In 1999 she was appointed vice-chairman of the British and International Federation of Festivals, the first woman to hold senior office of the federation.

This gave her the opportunity to visit many of the 320 festivals all over the British Isles and southern Ireland.

Carolyn is also chairman of the Northern Ireland Festivals Forum which comprises 17 federation festivals throughout the province and was instrumental in organising the 2014 Annual Conference of the British & International Federation of Festivals for Music, Dance and Speech which was held in Belfast.

At its annual general meeting she was appointed festivals vice-chairman.

During her time with Portadown Festival, Carolyn received the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2012 for her services to performing arts in Northern Ireland.

Carolyn said the success of Portadown Festival, which this year celebrates its 93rd anniversary, would not have been possible without the “many devoted volunteers who put so much of their time and energy into organising the festival season each year”.

She added it had been a privilege to watch children develop and grow in confidence over the years.

Her own children, Peter, now a professional musician, and Karen, both took part in Portadown Festival, playing the flute and clarinet.

As a young woman, Carolyn was a member of the McCready Singers, Portadown, which later became the Counterpoint Choir, and also sang with Portadown Philharmonic.

One of the highlights of her career was in 2005 when she represented the British & International Federation of Festivals at a reception in Buckingham Palace hosted by HR The Queen, patron of the federation, and The Duke of Edinburgh to celebrate the contribution of music to the UK culture and economy.

She said, “More than 500 guests were invited, and I had an opportunity to speak to Her Majesty about the festival movement. She really lights up the room when she comes into it.”

Among those at the Palace were Dame Janet Baker, Cilla Black, Phil Collins, Evelyn Glennie, Karl Jenkins, Julian Lloyd Webber, Sir Cameron Mackintosh and Sir Tim Rice .

Married to Bill, Carolyn has two children and one granddaughter.