Managing director of Matthews Coach Hire Paddy Matthews with singer/songwriter Sinead McNally

Managing director of Matthews Coach Hire Paddy Matthews with singer/songwriter Sinead McNally

A conversation between Paddy Matthews, MD of Matthews Coach Hire, and singer/songwriter Sinead McNally in 2014 led to something quite special happening in terms of helping to raise the profile of artists in counties Louth, Monaghan and Meath.

Started in August 2015, The Arts Showcase Initiative provides advertising support on the full back of one the north-east coach company’s vehicles to a succession of artists across a range of disciplines over a three-year period.

An independent panel of judges choose a winning entry every six months. McNally, who is from Knockbridge, Co Louth, was the first winner followed by painter Orla Barry from Dundalk, Co Louth.

Matthews runs 133 services a day on the M1 motorway and beyond, carrying 4,000 passengers a day as well as providing a range of tours. It has a fleet of 36 of its own coaches and employs 80 people from its base in Inniskeen, Co Monaghan.

The project, which is in partnership with Louth and Monaghan County Council Arts Offices, is the winner of the Best Use of Creativity in the Community category in this year’s Allianz Business to Arts Awards. It was also shortlisted in the Best Small Sponsorship category.

“Sinead [McNally] told me she had given up her career to do music, was looking for sponsorship and was struggling. I commissioned her to write a song for us as I could see a lot of similarities between us – 21 years ago our company had only one bus and no money for advertising,” Matthews explains.

“We got into the business by accident in 1995 when we bought a little minibus to bring our three children and foster children to school. Talking to artists you can see their challenges in the early stages are similar to those of any business.”

Matthews launched McNally’s song at its 20th anniversary event in May 2015 attended by Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys and then Minister for Business and Enterprise Gerald Nash.

“After chatting to people on the night we decided it would be a great idea to have an artist on the back of one of our coaches every six months. We like to give back to the community and support home grown talent,” says Matthews.

“We have always put the art and culture of the area to the fore in our day and extended tours which promote the north east and we see the benefits in promoting the artistic life of the region.”

With a view to reaching out to artists to progress the idea, Matthews approached Louth and Monaghan County Councils having built up a relationship with their Arts Offices over the years.

“Paddy [Matthews] has always been a great supporter of culture, bringing busloads of people to the area and incorporating different events into the company’s tours. We were glad to work with him on devising the idea, doing the background research and putting it together,” says Brian Harten, arts officer at Louth County Council.

“We pushed the initiative out through all of our channels and networks, telling artists how to apply and offering help with their pitches, but deliberately stayed out of the selection process ourselves.”

The judging panel included Sarah Daly, executive director of Creative Spark, a not-for-profit social enterprise which aims to develop the local creative industries sector and Sarah McCann, producer/director at Little Road Productions.

“As well as helping to raise awareness of the work we do, the initiative has given the two artists selected so far a real boost in terms of their own worth and recognition along the Dublin to Dundalk corridor. We had worked with these artists in the past providing them with grants and mentoring. Orla has found that a lot of people are linking her to the ad on the bus and people have commented on Facebook that they have seen it.”

Matthews adds that McNally has been going from strength to strength since the initiative began. “She got great coverage on Dundalk FM as a result of the exposure. We want to do anything that can help artists to get out there and get more publicity.”

Entries to the competition have increased from 16 in the first call to around 100 in the latest round. Harten says Louth County Council would be very supportive of Matthews Coach Hire continuing with this initiative into the future.

“We see it as a really strong foundation for the development of future branches of support for artists in the community. Perhaps we could look at promoting things like festivals as well as local artists in the future in this way,” he says.

“It makes people much more aware of the extent and breadth of cultural infrastructure in the region. This is only the start and we are delighted with the success of the initiative so far.”

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