St Anne Trust hosts five Carolfests this year

Wednesday December 20th 2023


Pupils from Jordanstown School sing and sign their song during the Belfast Primary Schools Carolfest.

The annual St Anne Trust Carolfest is growing every year, with a total of five Carolfests taking place in the run-up to Christmas, including two in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast.

A service for primary school children from Belfast and Jordanstown was held in the Cathedral on the morning of Friday December 1, while it was the turn of secondary aged choirs the following Monday afternoon.

Later in the week, Carolfests were held in the Parish of St Philip and St James, Holywood, on December 6; in St Patrick’s RC Cathedral, Armagh, on December 7; and in quite a unique service, in both St Macartin’s Cathedral and St Michael’s Church, Enniskillen, on December 13.

Pupils from Cliftonville Integrated, Glenwood, Holy Cross Boys’ and Jordanstown School all sang their hearts out at the first Carolfest Service in Belfast, which was packed with children, teachers, family and friends. Special guests included the High Sheriff of Belfast, Councillor John Kyle, and Darren Ross from event sponsors, Gallagher Insurance.

Welcoming the guests to the service, Dean Stephen Forde said: “Here they [the children] will create for themselves, and for you their parents and families, a mosaic of memories which will be held for years to come. The carols and music of Christmas are a foundation for our childhoods, just as the songs of Mary, Elizabeth and of the angel choirs stand at the very heart of the Christmas story. Today, together, we will create a soundscape of memory to carry each of us though the journey of life.”

At both services held in St Anne’s, the Dean thanked the Committee of the St Anne Trust for organising not only the services at Belfast Cathedral, but also partner events with schools in Holywood, Enniskillen and Armagh.

The primary Object of the St Anne Trust is to enhance and promote good community relations between children and their families through the medium of choral music.                                                                  

The Trust’s secondary Object is to ‘provide young people with opportunities to develop their musical and performance skills, regardless of their social, cultural or religious background’.                                                                                                                  

In furtherance of this, the Trust initiated a pilot scholarship scheme in the academic year   2022-2023, providing musical tuition to a number of promising pupils from three schools, to develop further their education, creativity and self-expression through singing. Each child received a series of singing lessons funded by the Trust and entered singing examinations appropriate to their ability.

The success of this pilot was evidenced by the results of the ABRSM Grade 1 examination, in which the six scholars achieved a total of three distinctions, two merits and one pass. In conjunction with Cliftonville Integrated, Holy Cross Boys’ and Glenwood Primary Schools, the Trust has commenced year two of the scheme, which will involve a total of 18 scholars.                                                                                                                                                                    

At the service on December 1, the Trust’s scholars sang the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City and the year two scholars made their debut with a beautiful rendition of Walking in the Air.

The Secondary Schools Carolfest in Belfast Cathedral on December 4.

The Carolfest continued the following Monday afternoon, with pupils from Dundonald High School and Just Stage It cross community group sharing in a truly uplifting festive service at which, in common with all the Carolfests, the Christmas story was told through lessons read by representatives of the schools or the special guests.

On December 6, the choirs of Glencraig Integrated, Holywood Primary School, St Patrick’s Primary School and Sullivan Upper Preparatory School were welcomed to the Church of St Philip and St James by the Rev Canon Gareth Harron, who said: “Music plays a central role in Christmas festivities, so I know that this afternoon will inspire and unite us in celebration.”

The Holywood Carolfest in St Philip and St James Church.

Last year’s Carolfest in Armagh was held in St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, and this year it moved to St Patrick’s RC Cathedral, where the choirs of Saints and Scholars Integrated and St Malachy’s primary schools shared some wonderful Christmas Carols with teachers, family and special guests.

The children and guests were welcomed by Fr Barry Matthews, Administrator of St Patrick’s Cathedral.

The choir from Saints and Scholars Primary School took part in the Armagh Carolfest.

Carolfest 2023 was invited to Enniskillen by the Very Rev Dean Kenneth Hall, Dean of St Macartin’s Cathedral, and the Rt Rev Monsignor Peter O’Reilly, St Michael’s Parish Church. The two church leaders hosted the late Queen Elizabeth II during her visit in 2012 – an occasion which has gone down in history as it was the first time a monarch had been into a Catholic church on the island of Ireland.

Pupils taking part came from Holy Trinity Primary School, Enniskillen; Enniskillen Model Primary School and Enniskillen Integrated Primary School.   

The service on December 13 was led jointly by Dean Hall and Monsignor O’Reilly, who shared the Bidding and Blessing. It began in St Macartin’s Cathedral at 11am. Then, retracing the late Queen’s steps in 2012, the schoolchildren, teachers, parents and grandparents all walked from St Macartin’s, crossing the road to St Michael’s, singing as they walked – one service of unity in two locations. 

Carolfest Enniskillen crosses the road from St Macartin’s Cathedral where it started to St Michael’s Church where it continued.

Speaking in advance of this very special Carolfest, Dean Hall said: “The churches have expertise in forgiveness, justice, truth and repentance – the components of reconciliation. We in Enniskillen see the need to examine and to re-define our role and purpose as being ‘open and available’ churches in order to give a new incentive for reconciliation work at a local level.

“The churches have so much common ground in their acceptance of the basic tenets of the Christian Faith and we gain enormously from bringing to and sharing with each other the riches of our own traditions and denominations. This service should further encourage the work that is already taking place.” 

Monsignor O’Reilly said: “Following the 2012 visit of The Queen for her Diamond Jubilee, her footsteps became iconic. That ‘Crossing of the Street’ summed up so much of the goodwill that already existed in Enniskillen.

“Now, in the Community Carol Festival encouraged by the St Anne Trust, we have another opportunity to give expression to that goodwill. Feelings follow footsteps. I hope that this service will be the occasion of the warm feelings that can come from working together for a better community, a better world.”

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