Members of the Youth Academy in Mullingar Arts Centre taking part in A Westmeath Christmas Carol.

A Westmeath Christmas Carol

A Westmeath Christmas Carol is a creative project involving the community of Mullingar and beyond, and one that evokes hope, joy, and plenty of Christmas spirit locally.

It tells the classic Charles Dickens tale of elderly miser Ebenezer Scrooge but through a collective Westmeath voice, as familiar faces read the story on YouTube.

The first two chapters are already uploaded to the video sharing platform, and a new chapter will be released on Fridays in the run-up to Christmas.

“I wondered how difficult it would be to take something like A Christmas Carol, and get everyone involved, making video versions at home,” said Don Mortell, the creative mind behind this project, and others including MullingArt.

Don Mortell, the brainchild behind A Westmeath Christmas Carol.

“I had the video editing programme at home already, and so about nine months ago, I thought, let’s give it ago, and that’s how it began.

“The book itself is about a two-hour read, it’s technically not a novel, it’s a novella; it’s only five chapters long, and that in itself lends itself to a project like this. I tried to work out a system on how to do it, and when the five chapters are already there for you, I thought this could be actually done.

“And I’m so happy that we did this because now we’ve got about 50 people doing it, and it’s going fantastically well.

“We’ve set out a timetable of what should be recorded when and by whom, and I’ve got a reserve list if people drop out, because life happens and it’s a busy time of year for people.

“But we’ve had people from all over doing it, some Westmeath people based in the UK, others have recorded while they’re on holiday in Spain.

The legendary Mick Foster is involved.

“There’s one man originally from Castlepollard, and living in Pennsylvania, and he recorded a piece for us, and another as far away as Mauritius. We’ve had lovely input from people and I’m really pleased with that,” said Don.

“The first and second are up on YouTube, and the third will be released this coming Friday, December 1. Every Friday, one of the five chapters will be released in the run up to Christmas, and each read is about 45 minutes. So you can choose to watch it in one sitting, or enjoy one chapter at a time, weekly.”

How creative did people get with their reading of A Westmeath Christmas Carol?

“Most of the reads are straight to camera, but some got artistic, and fully staged their pieces. For example, we got the young people in Mullingar Arts Centre involved and they did a stunning version of the Cratchits’ Christmas dinner, complete with a huge papier-mâché turkey. And many have done it in full out in costume.

Crime writer Patricia Gibney is also taking part.

“One couple dressed their entire front room for Christmas in the middle of August to record their piece!

“The beauty of this is every read is different. I think the fact that everyone has done a bit, loads and loads of people from all over, keeps it interesting for the audience watching at home.”

There are many familiar faces lending their voices to A Westmeath Christmas Carol, including crime writer Patricia Gibney, entertainer Ray Dolan, and musicians Mick and Moyra Foster.

“At the core of this is bringing out everyone’s creative side. It’s not about being famous, this county is a creative powerhouse, with about 10% known, the rest of the 90% is unseen. So hopefully, when I’m doing something next year, we’ll have many more who will have seen this and think, ‘I can do that, I’ll give it a go’.

Is there a lot of work involved?

“There is, I’ve been nine months at it now, but I’ve been so encouraged by the response that we’ve got that it keeps you going. I enjoy it. It’s been a learning curve, and I’d just like to put it out there for next year, if anyone has any suggestions as to what we should do next Christmas, I’d love to hear them. We should keep Westmeath creative and put that at the forefront of people’s thoughts.”

A Westmeath Christmas Carol is available now on YouTube.