The team behind the Westmeath Bachelor Festival, Tomás and Niamh Nally and Shane Barkey.

Team promise a traditional contest with a modern twist

Sarah Slevin

The Westmeath Bachelor Festival has lined up celebrity judges, well-known music acts and 13 eligible men to compete in the bachelor competition this May bank holiday weekend.

One of the driving forces behind the festival is the director, Tomás Nally, who grew up in Mullingar.

Tomás described the competition at Mullingar Arts Centre as Westmeath’s answer to the Rose of Tralee, with a modern twist, to find Ireland’s most eligible bachelor.

“We are trying to build something that could be the male equivalent of the Rose of Tralee and a modern version. This show is different in that it’s a bit more up to date and less traditional. It’s a bit sexier in general and better craic – not as traditional,” Tomás said.

Louis Walsh has been confirmed as one of the judges for the competition, alongside former RTÉ news anchor, Anne Doyle, 2fm radio presenter, Doireann Garrihy, and country-singer, Nathan Carter, who is also set to perform.

The presenters, Shane Barkey and Sarah Foster, expect to be kept on their toes as the big personality judges will have a lot of power.

“There will be interviews, but the four judges will have live microphones throughout so can interrupt and ask questions and interact, it’ll be very ad lib, it won’t be strait-laced,” Tomás promised.

Some of the top performers for the weekend include Gavan James and Robert Mizzell and Mullingar bands The Academic and The Blizzards.

Along with the full line-up, local bands will also play on the Saturday evening, a move which Tomás said was aimed at supporting home talent.

“We are calling it the Local Hero set, so we are trying to give back. We have a stage that’s the equivalent of Electric Picnic main stage; this thing will be seen from the space station. It’s a huge opportunity for local acts to get on such a big stage,” Tomás said.

Tomás said they were delighted with the interest from both judges and music acts which has built the festival to where it is.

“We were really surprised, we got huge buy-in from the judges, and the acts as well see it as something that can be built upon if it goes well,” Tomás said.

For around a decade during the 1980s and ’90s, Tomás has memories of the original bachelor festival in Mullingar. “When I was little, in the ’80s, I remember sitting on our roof, which is a three-storey building (on Dominick Street), and looking at the festival over the wall. There’d be tug-o-war and all sorts of things happening. The culmination then was the bachelor festival itself,” Tomás said.

“It used to be sponsored by Guinness, it was a serious festival in its day. And I remember every year, the focus was on the festival. My dad always said he couldn’t wait until the festival.”

Tomás said that eventually the festival died down and was partially resurrected when it became the Joe Dolan International Westmeath Bachelor festival in 2013.

“I always wondered why it fell down, but it’s like everything; it’s hard to keep a thing going and keep interest over the years. It seemed to fade away and no one took the bull by the horns and got it back up and running,” Tomás said.

He decided to begin the process of organising the return of the competition after talking to his wife, Niamh, from Cavan, who thought it was a great idea.

Just before the first Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020, the competition had been organised, but ultimately did not get to go ahead due to the public health restrictions.

“Covid was rampant at the time, so we pulled it just before the lockdown came in, and that shelved everything – which was a huge disappointment because we had a massive show organised,” Tomás said.

“We lost a lot of money through deposits, so we had to think whether to go again or just shelve it,” Tomás said.

Since then, Tomás was approached by local man, Derek Irwin, to make it into a music festival with the bachelor competition as the finale on the Sunday.

“The idea was to build to a festival within a couple of years and just concentrate on the competition first but there was huge interest originally, so we started to approach a few acts,” Tomás said.

The competition received entries from ‘bachelors’ from all over the world – Scotland, New York, and England, and from across Ireland.

The youngest competitor is aged 22, and the oldest, the wild card, David Goodliffe from the UK, is aged 60, and had competed in the original bachelor competition in the 1980s.

Tomás said it was important that the 13 chosen bachelors represented all ages and a range of personalities.

“It’s a personality contest, it’s not based on looks, age, sexual orientation. We’re trying to get the face of the modern Irish man who is a bachelor at the same time,” Tomás explained.

“It’s not a looks competition, though there are fine looking fellas involved. We feel we have a broad mix of people and I think it’ll be a really good competition because they all have something different going on,” Tomás said.

The winner will receive an all-inclusive holiday to Ibiza, a new wardrobe, and a cash donation for their chosen charity.

Tomás has urged Westmeath locals to get behind the three-day festival, which has hotels sold out for the weekend.

“We have all the work done, what we need now is the people of Westmeath and Mullingar to support it, to buy tickets. Mullingar and Westmeath people are great, and they do like to support our own,” Tomás said.

“If we could make this a winner and the people get behind it and buy tickets, it’s great for the community. Even a few weeks ago, all the hotel rooms were sold out. It’ll be huge for business and for the town,” Tomás said.

Tomás mentioned that there is huge support for the festival from the likes of the county council, the local arts office, and the gardaí.

“If we break even, we can show backers that this is viable. The Fleadh Cheoil is the big thing this year, but if we can get this right for the next two years, then we have a mainstay that’ll be there for the town every year,” Tomás said.

The Westmeath Bachelor Festival runs from Friday April 29 through to the competition on Sunday May 1.