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Thursday 15th May 2008 at 4pm 0 Comments

Former Director of Belfast Festival at Queen’s dies aged 76

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has learned with regret of the death of former Director of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s, Michael Barnes OBE, who died peacefully yesterday at Cedarhurst Lodge Belfast, at the age of 76.

Michael Barnes, a Senior Lecturer in Modern History at Queen’s University Belfast, became Director of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s in the early 1970s, a position he held for the following two decades until his departure in 1994.

Under Barnes’s directorship, the Festival expanded into a two-week long celebration of the arts. It grew into a festival of international importance, with support from the Arts Council, and became established as a major fixture in the Northern Ireland arts calendar.

The Festival brought many celebrated international artists and performers, orchestras, dance and theatre companies – from the Royal Shakespeare Company and Yehudi Menuhin to comedians Rowan Atkinson and Michael Palin - to Northern Ireland during the difficult times of the ‘Troubles’. It also provided a showcase for the wealth of home-grown artistic talent, including poet Seamus Heaney, flautist James Galway, pianist Barry Douglas, and the Ulster Orchestra.

Rosemary Kelly, Chairman of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, paid tribute:

“It was thanks largely to Michael that the Belfast Festival at Queen’s became such an important feature in Belfast’s cultural life. His presence was particularly important during some of the city’s darkest times, when the Festival helped us to preserve a sense of normality, of Belfast continuing to be a cultured city with its artistic life intact. I think we still reap the benefits of Michael’s legacy, with the Festival continuing to play an important role in the city’s cultural renaissance and with Belfast now routinely included as part of the touring circuit for international artists and entertainers.”

A Memorial gathering to celebrate Michael Barnes's life will be held in Belfast at a date to be announced.

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