In the early nineties Riverstown Enterprise Development (Sligo) Ltd. acquired Millview House together with six acres of marsh land and in the years that followed, developed it into one of the biggest tourist attractions in the North West. But in December 2002 young and old flocked to Sligo Folk Park, not to view the Agricultural Museum but to celebrate the festive season with a visit to Santa Claus in Santatown.
The directors felt the need for some type of venture which would generate income during the winter period and the inspirational Hugh Kelly suggested that the Folk Park was an ideal location for a Christmas Wonderland. Despite the close proximity to Yuletide the idea gathered momentum and preparations got underway for what was to become one of the most memorable events ever in Riverstown.
Artefacts in the street windows took second place to a display of Barbie Dolls, Action Man, Bob the Builder, fairy lights, decorations and an array of other toys. Bellew Brothers was converted into a toy factory, while the library was transformed into Santa’s Grotto. In keeping with the ethos of the Folk Park it was decided to allow children experience Christmas long ago and so Granny Murphy’s Kitchen was constructed, an exact replica of a rural dwelling house in the early nineteen hundreds. Rudolf and his sleigh was installed and a stage erected for the performing elves. Outside, Christmas lights sparkled in the trees surrounding the museum and chased around the perimeter of buildings. An illuminated “Santatown” sign beckoned visitors at the gate and the Christmas atmosphere was set.
The village itself joined in the spirit of the occasion and suitably decorated their homes, premises and streets setting the scene for what was to prove a really spectacular occasion. Once Santatown was advertised on N.W.R. and in local newspapers Josephine Taylor had the mammoth task of dealing with bookings around the clock, from almost every county in Ireland and beyond. Toys to meet the demands of children ranging from 2 weeks to 12 years were purchased and wrapped, and a show which would attract not just children but provide entertainment for every age was rehearsed.
On opening night and for every performance up to 100 voluntary workers manned their posts and the whole operation went like clockwork. Car Park attendants ensured the smooth flow of traffic for the two back-to-back shows and the elements were kind to the hundreds who queued to meet The Man Himself.
Once they entered The Street, they were treated to a humorous show on stage provided by elves, resplendant in outfits, designed and made by Sheila Devine. They were reminded of the real meaning of Christmas by a visit to the Crib and then were riveted to Granny & Patrick Murphy’s account of Christmas in Bygone days. Once Santa arrived on the scene, Siobhan and her Folk Group and the Church of Ireland Choir entertained the gathering with lively Christmas songs and carols, as the children visited Santa’s Grotto and emerged clutching their long awaited presents.
Those last in the queue were treated to a blast of Irish music by a young traditional trio and watched in awe the intricate dance steps of more local talent. Twenty shows were put on during the week-ends on the run up to Christmas and Santatown’s success was due to the commitment, willingness and good humour of a dedicated bunch of people, from teenagers to the not so young, who worked diligently and gave up their leisure time to be part of this extravaganza. Santatown is on the map!
Due to the great success of Santatown, it is now an annual event at the Sligo Folk Park. Remember to book early to avoid disappointment!