The O'Reilly theater at the Wexford Opera House

I attended the first fundraising dinner for a most unusual Irish showcase event this week.

The Wexford Opera Festival, among the most popular opera festivals in the world, put on a smashing first night in America at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York on Wednesday.

At the end of it dinner chairman Shane Naughton announced that $250,000 had been raised which was topped by a further $50,000 later that night by honoree Dr. Pearse Lyons of Alltec.

There was opera singing out of this world, good humor and grace and a night to remember for the 300 or so guests present.

Ireland and an opera festival hardly go hand in hand but it is a real tribute to a group of Wexford people who met 62 years ago in the small South Eastern town, current population 20,000. The committee which back then was led by the local doctor, decided to start, of all things, an opera festival.

One can imagine the second guessing on that one but it went on to become one of the great festivals in Ireland every year, and apparently, very highly regarded on the world stage. Now New York has joined in with its own committee.

For sixty two years now many hundreds of thousands of people have made a pilgrimage to Wexford Festival Opera in search of buried operatic treasure. Since 1951 this town has hosted what has become known as one of the world’s most remarkable festivals. Wexford Festival Opera prides itself in giving new life to unjustly neglected operas, introducing artists and audiences to the forgotten masterpieces. And it does this in high quality productions which annually delight both critics and audiences alike.

But far from being satisfied with presenting three productions each year, also on offer is a packed programme of morning events, lunchtime concerts, afternoon ShortWorks and recitals and late night revues. As if this wasn’t enough, a vibrant Fringe Festival offers everything from art exhibitions through to singing and swinging pubs.

And throughout all this, there is the remarkable camaraderie engendered by the warmth and intimacy of Wexford town itself. From the brand new Wexford Opera House seating just over 770, the 350 strong volunteer corps ready to welcome you to Wexford, to the hotels, bars and restaurants along the High, Main, and side streets of this Viking town, Wexford is a town which is truly taken over by the Festival. There’s something in the air that quickens everyone’s pulse – a common heartbeat of expansive good feeling and heightened sensibility that brings people back to Wexford.