About The Red Sails Festival Community Event

The Red Sails Festival is an annual community event provided by the Portstewart Community Association in conjunction with Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, local businesses and volunteers.

The History of The Portstewart Community Association Red Sails Festival

Although the first Red Sails Festival was in the year 2000, The P.C.A. first started organising summer festivals in the early 1970’s. Known simply as the Portstewart Summer Carnival, they were originally held in June. The aim was to raise money, to provide a Summer break in the seaside town of Portstewart for children living in areas of Northern Ireland experiencing the worst effects of the “ Troubles”

Later the carnival moved to late July and any money raised, was distributed to local charities. The main source of income was from stall holders and an annual raffle.

Over the years many members of the community played a part in maintaining this popular annual event. However, by the year 2000, the P.C.A. committee consisted of a largely ageing membership, who decided that a recruitment drive for volunteers was needed and that without new volunteers they could no longer be able to organize the Summer Carnival.

Fortunately, the recruitment drive worked. Several new volunteers helped to form a carnival committee for that year. That committee came up with the idea of re-branding the carnival with an attractive title with links to Portstewart.  The committee decided on the title of The Red Sails Festival-in honour of Jimmy Kennedy, one of the greatest songwriters of the twentieth century. Jimmy, whose parents had a  home in Portstewart, had a huge worldwide hit in 1936 with “Red Sails In The Sunset”. The song was inspired by the beautiful scenery and sunsets in Portstewart. Not only was the song a hit in that year, but has gone to be covered by many artists ever since. The song Red Sails was inspired by a painting done by my his sister of a boat coming into the harbour with the sun catching the sail ( Source: Jimmy's grand daughter).

Jimmy wrote over 2000 songs-many of them hits, including The Teddy Bears Picnic, South of the Border and My Prayer Until Lennon and McCartney he had more hits in America than other British or Irish songwriter.

The year 2000 also saw the introduction of the first festival programme brochure. Local business advertising in the program became an additional source of revenue for the festival.

The first Red Sails Festival consisted of around eighteen events organized by the committee. The programme also listed approximately 20 to 25 other events that were happening in the area that week. Over the next sixteen years the Red Sails Festival has grown to become one of the most popular events in the North West, with an annual programme of over seventy events.

A couple of years after its inception the Festival changed from an event that raised money for various charities to a non- profit making event. The primary aim became to provide a festival that comprised of a variety of mainly free events for all ages-making the festival accessible for all. Although the P.C.A. does not raise money directly for charities during the week-many charities have raised £1000's by organising street collections during the festival week. 

In 2005 The P.C.A. first applied for external funding. On this occasion from the Big Lottery. Every year since then The P.C.A. has applied for grant funding from various sources. Successful application to The Council delivered Community Festival Fund (supported by D.C.A.L./Department for Communities) has also had a very important impact in the growth of the festival. The PCA has also been successful on the two other occasions it applied for grants from the BIg Lottery, including this year, 2017.

Over the years other groups/ organisations have come part of the festival experience by organizing events to coincide with the festival and become part of the programme-i.e. Big Telly and Portstewart Library


Some Highlights

2010 Jimmy Kennedy’s granddaughter Chrissy Smith came over from England to take part in 10th Anniversary celebrations

2011 MORELLI'S CENTENARY CELEBRATIONS & GUINNESS WORLD RECORD ATTEMPT-was included as part Of Red Sails Festival programme.  The world record attempt was successful.




2015 BT’s guide to free summer festivals across the UK. Top 20. Two N.Ireland festivals mentioned. The Red Sails Festival being one of them


2016 Moneysavingexpert.com guide to free UK Free festivals. Two N.Ireland festivals mentioned. The Red Sails Festival being one of them


Although The Festival no longer raises money directly for charities and indeed can’t do so-as a condition of any grants applied for, various charities have independently organized street collections to coincide with the festival. As a result the festival continues to be an important source for those charities.

For a number of years now The Community Rescue Service has organized a street collection to coincide with the final day of the festival, raising thousands of pounds for this vital service.


More information coming soon

More information coming soon






Would you like to be part of the Red Sails Festival?