A PRESTIGIOUS all-British Irish music, song and dance competition is to take place in South Lakeland next month for the first time in the event's 61-year history.

The Irish Musicians Association has previously used university or other educational venues for their annual three-day event which produces British open champions.

But this year the town of Kirkby Lonsdale is to play host to the three-day event running from June 28 to 30.

Allan Muirhead, chairman of the town’s Community Interest Company, said: ‘Kirkby’s reputation for hosting big events, like our three-day Christmas market and fair, the filming of Jamaica Inn and The Return of Dr Doolittle, persuaded the organisers to bring this musical extravaganza here.

"We’re breaking new ground and are delighted to have been chosen.’

Some 600 competitors from throughout the UK, aged from five to 85, featuring musicians, dancers and singers, will compete in almost 250 categories at a variety of venues throughout the town, including the two schools, public halls and churches.

The winners will go forward to the association’s grand finals in Ireland later in the year.

The organising committee, backed by the Irish Government, use the competition to promote Irish culture. There will be an Irish language cafe at the town’s Book Lounge where Celtic culture will be highlighted.

Musicians are offering to visit local schools to encourage an interest in Irish music, its history and its origins.

Two public musical performances will be held on Saturday, June 29. A concert of song, music and dance, at St Mary’s Parish Church will feature harps and, from Scotland, the folk band Talisker, voted the world’s best.

At the town’s rugby club, there will be a less formal ceilidh with the reigning all-Ireland champion band, Blackwater, headlining. Both will be ticket-only events, available from the town’s visitor information centre.

A stage in Market Square will feature music, song and dance throughout the weekend, while informal music sessions each evening will see competitors unwind in local pubs and hotels, entertaining locals and visitors alike.

Kirkby Lonsdale will go green for the event with 1,000 metres of green bunting decorating the streets and the local brewery producing a special beer, named Kirkby Fleadh. There will be window displays, an Irish-themed trail round town, and competitions for children.

Janet Nuttall, Kirkby Lonsdale’s Town and Tourism Manager, said: "We’re recruiting volunteers to help visitors and competitors to find where to park, eat and drink, and where the competitions are taking place. They can register their interest at the visitor

information centre from now on. They will be right at the heart of all that’s going on. This is a unique event, never before held in an urban setting.

"It’s a tremendous boost for the town, for our economy, for tourism in south Cumbria.’

"It is a real coup for Kirkby. It’s a ground-breaking event which will attract hundreds of visitors to the town and the surrounding area. We’re proud to have been selected for this festival of music, song and dance."