La Fête à Wallace Park, Lisburn

photo: Rym Akhonzada
The bandstand in Wallace Park, Lisburn was the focal point for 14 July Bastille Day celebrations. Organised as part of the City's Park Life programme to encourage use of public spaces, it was pleasing to see the many "citizens" who gathered to occupy the bandstand area. The idea was to create a café style atmosphere by creating a round of patio tables covered in red checked cloths. A large public address system squeezed out French accordion music while people organised themselves with refreshments.

A coffee truck was stationed nearby and seemed to be doing quite a trade in not only coffee but ice cream. Local restaurant Periwig had prepared a French themed menu of treats including a liver pâté parfait served on toasted brioche; fishcakes; macarons in a variety of colours and profiteroles served with hot chocolate sauce.

Anthea McWilliams of the Sir Richard Wallace Trust moved to the stand to tell the story of Sir Richard and his connection to both Lisburn and Paris. She referred to his legacy of the "peoples park" itself, to the Wallace School which she attended and to the Wallace Fountains, his enduring gift to the people of France. Anthea shared details of the Wallace walking tour and encouraged everyone to give it a go.

After another musical interlude, Natasha and Alison from Interlinguani, a local language teaching school organised a glove puppet show in French for the many children who had come along. They then entertained them with a story, encouraging them to learn and use simple French words. They offered prizes of chocolate, checking first with mums and dads that that was okay, to those who were the loudest, the quietest and those who got the French just right.

To the left of the bandstand there was a constant queue of parents and young children lining up to have their faces painted. Moustaches were everywhere, Pierrot faces and some aristocratic Marie Antoinette looks too.

Interlinguani shared a gazebo with the Cercle Français de Belfast. Rym, Director of the school was kept busy meeting parents and supplying their children with colouring-in pictures and pens. Alongside, Hilary from the Cercle was just as busy, blowing balloons. A lot of her effort was punctured however as several youngsters burst their balloons to discover the little paper message in French that had been placed in each. Nearby, leisure staff had roped off a piste de pétanque and several adults and children tried their hand at throwing boules, many for the first time.

Back to the stand and the Bailies Mills Accordion Band had taken their seats to play an assortment of French standards including the occasional rendition of La Marseillaise. Beret and marine shirted musicians had dressed for the part adding touches of good humour to the proceedings.

Anthea took to the stage again, this time to read from the Richard Wallace Storybook created by the Trust. Its simple style and illustrations appealed to the children and were also appreciated by their elders. More puppets and story time from Alison and Natasha, then back to the accordionists to bring the event to an end.

Carolyn, event organiser with Lisburn City's Leisure Services, was pleased at the turn out. She was particularly pleased that so many French nationals had participated. Although a hundred or more people had attended, more important than the number was the fact that people had got together around the bandstand to enjoy the occasion and use the facility. Given his close connections to France, no doubt Sir Richard would have been pleased that his people's park had been the focal point for a successful local celebration of La Fête Nationale.