Fitting tribute to the first lady of Irish dance

A MOVING tribute has been paid to a foundation member of the Port Fairy Folk Festival.

Within the pages of the festival’s official program is a tribute to Fay McAlinden, a founding member who died in December last year.

Festival director Jamie McKew penned the tribute to Mrs McAlinden with help from her husband Morgan and daughter Una.

Fay and Morgan McAlinden both hailed from Northern Ireland and met at an Irish dance in England. They were married in 1961.

They emigrated with their three children, Una, Dominic and Damian, to Australia in the early 1970s.

Living in Geelong, they not only joined the local folk club but also started Irish set dancing sessions in the city.

Mrs McAlinden was an All England Irish Set Dancing champion and used her skill at dancing and organisation to make Irish dancing a key part of the first Port Fairy Folk Festival in 1977.

She brought together 100 Irish dancers on the town’s Village Green for that first festival, something her daughter Una remembers well.

“I was one of those in that original group of children who danced at the first festival,” Una said.

“Mum had grown up with such strong cultural and traditional ties and when she came to Australia those links to heritage were not as strong here.

“So she brought that passion with her dance and really got things going in Geelong and then down here in Port Fairy.” 

Una has inherited her parents’ love of music and is the director of the National Celtic Festival in Portarlington.

She is back in Port Fairy for the weekend to join her father in what is his first Folkie without his wife. Mr McAlinden said he and Fay had been to all but one festival over the course of its history.

“It is very touching to have the tribute in the program for Fay but it’s a bit difficult not having her here,” Mr McAlinden said.

“To have this tribute is nice for us and I think it would have meant a lot to Fay. She was very passionate in those early days about the festival and she was great at getting things done.”

Fittingly this year’s Folk Festival line-up is very strong on Irish talent with acts such as Glen Hansard, Damien Dempsey, Lisa O’Neill and Altan some of the biggest drawcards.

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