“Wexford (Irish: Loch Garman) is the county town of County Wexford, Ireland. Wexford, an agricultural trading centre, lies on the south side of Wexford Harbour, the estuary of the River Slaney near the south-eastern corner of the island of Ireland. Wexford is renowned globally for its annual opera festival which ………..”

“Hang on a minute, Seamus. You can’t post that in Wikipedia! Wexford’s a sleepy market town – Opera? Jaysus, you oxymoronic leathcheann, more moron that ox!!! Wexford, opera on the Slaney? You must be feck… joking ………” tandem repetita.

But Seamus is right – has hit the nail on the head, cracked the ball out of the stadium, scored a home run …….. tandem repetita (again) and from October 19th to November 4th Wexford will prove it to the world by staging its miraculous opera festival, featuring yet again three new productions of unfamiliar (that’s putting it mildly, Seamus, ed.) operas.

The festival now attracts an international audience to fill the National Opera House (formerly the Theatre Royal – only Republican Wexford could never get the irony) to overflowing, party like there’s no tomorrow and enjoy the hospitality of this most welcoming and original of stops on any opera addict’s circuit.

For 16 days a year Wexford becomes “Brigadoon”, appearing through the mists of hospitality to host a festival conceived in 1951 by Dr. Thomas Walsh (locally, Dr. Tom), an anaesthetist at Wexford County Hospital, whose daughter still graces events runs by “Friends of Wexford” with her presence. Then it fades back into the mist, the circus leaves town and the citizenry gets back to doing ….. well, I don’t know. I’ve never been there except during festival season.

Wexford is famed for reviving forgotten operas consigned – sometimes wrongly, sometimes with obvious justification – to the dustbin of history. Nowadays, it blends the old with the new. This year’s productions include the European premiere of “Dinner at Eight”, by William Bolcom, a double bill, “L’oracolo and Mala vita” by Franco Leoni and Umberto Giordano, and “Il bravo” by Saverio Mercadante.

Mr Bolcom is an American composer I have tended to avoid since trying to come to grips with his “William Blake’s Songs of innocence and Experience” – a tense 1 hour 52 minute wrestling match with dissonance in which I was laid out on the canvas by two songs and a turgid chanting of “Tiger, Tiger”.

However, I promise to listen to “Dinner at Eight” with a fresh ear and just hope that the theme of an ill-fated dinner party set in depression era Manhattan, focussing on the subversive takeover of the host’s (recently diagnosed with a heart condition) shipping line by one of his guests – is played for laughs. But, somehow – having seen his “A View from the Bridge” which was a violent cross between “West Side Story and “The Waterfront”, I doubt it.

Franco Leoni (1864 -1949), an Italian composer who worked mostly in London’s Covent Garden, was once the victim of a disparaging putdown: “the composer’s chief fault at present is his excellent memory [for] the works of Dvořák, Mascagni, Wagner, Bizet.” Well, that sounds alright to me.

“L’oracolo,” premiered at Covent Garden in 1905, was then described as “a piece of operatic Grand Guignol”, featuring a kidnapping and two murders in 90 minutes. Here’s another comment from the time: “Hokum, but any opera that begins with three crashes, a very loud cock-crow, a chorus shouting in fake-Chinese and then launches into a vehement unaccompanied solo … has clearly got something going for it.” My kind of verismo. Bring it on. Oh, and it’s set in an opium den in San Francisco. Wexford is taking American affiliations seriously this year.

“Mala vita” (Wretched life) was Giordano’s idea of a fun- filled time in a Naples slum, telling of a desperate love triangle revolving around Vito, a dye maker afflicted with tuberculosis (that ubiquitous operatic ailment). It was booed off the stage in ….. well, Naples; but was a huge success in Milan. Funny that. Giordano writes belters of arias, tubercular or not, so I’m looking forward to it.

But, my contender for this year’s “Why the hell have we never heard this before?”, Wexford’s “Strictly Come Opera Watching” prize, must be, without doubt or equivocation, not a “nul point” in sight, double sixes on every judges’ card, “Il bravo” – Saverio Mercadente 1795 – 1870).

It’s got everything going for it. It’s bonkers: a hired assassin; an orphan; a mysterious Venetian woman; an exiled patrician – and a gondolier. Plus, the lyrical, flowing melodies of Signor Mercadente.

Let’s spool back a bit. In the 1970’s Scottish Opera, then in its infancy, formed close links with Wexford, driven by the enthusiasm of Sir Alexander Gibson, musical director, organising joint productions and – more threateningly – teams of visiting enthusiastic Glaswegian opera lovers – “See me, see Mozart, Jimmy” – to disturb the Pax Wexfordica.

I first went with a posse of pals in 1977 and was hooked. It was like entering another dimension. Wexford pushed the boat out – literally. We used to have Sunday lunch on a Slaney barge to the rattle of the pissing rain on the cabin roof. On trying to book a reprise last year I was told the barge had since sunk. Pity.

From the off, it was obvious that the whole community was actively engaged and enthused. Still is. Many locals feature in the chorus. Of course there was opera, but there was also an agricultural parade, a round the island offshore powerboat race, a march to celebrate Commander John Barry (Man of Wexford and father of the US Navy) whose statue stands in the harbour – and a window dressing competition in all the local shops, the prize being ….. who ever knew? Eclectic mayhem.

Lunch – Guinness really, then another Guinness – was taken (still is) in the Bar/Undertaker in the town centre (paradoxically offering “live” music) and post opera the cognoscenti would slope off to the “Smoked Products” establishment run by a charming lady from Galway behind a secret door in a wall in unlicensed premises (sadly gone; “elf and safety, guv”), offering oysters brought daily in the boot of her bashed up Marina from Galway Bay, smoked salmon and a bottle of Sancerre that came with the oysters as garnish, so wasn’t actually purchased. Aha! Garda, you can’t touch us! Oh, you’re over there, slurping oysters.

The shoulders one rubbed – everyone sat on benches supported by flowerpots – included those of Bernard Levin, in his famous, dashing, cape, Christopher Sykes, the author – minus his ghastly bulldog “Bullseye” – Alex and Vi Gibson, Lady Diana Cooper and Sir Alfred and Lady Beit.

The Beits, who owned one of the best art collections in private hands – were famously taken hostage in their home – Russborough House, Co. Wicklow – in 1974 by Rose Dugdale, the upper middle class, French accented IRA terrorist.

Sir Alfred, whose love for Ireland and its people was unshakeable throughout the “Troubles”, was a founder of the festival and eccentrically insisted on driving his 6ft wide MK10 Jaguar from the Talbot Hotel to the Theatre Royal – about 800 yards – being overtaken by pedestrians in evening clobber and once becoming firmly wedged in a lane, unfortunately 5ft 11 and 3/4 inches wide. Without these random cameos Wexford would not be Wexford.

As a coda, I happened across Lady Beit, by then a widow, in 1996, looking a bit lost in the Central Lobby of the House of Commons. The mention of Wexford brought a beam to her face and we spent a happy hour reminiscing over a cocktail in the Pugin Room until her flustered “real” host – I don’t recall exactly who – rescued her. Mentioning Wexford to a fellow aficionado – anywhere on the planet – is as sure of provoking a co-conspiratorial response as delivering a well executed Masonic handshake to a fellow Mason.

Last year I returned, after a foolish absence of 25 years. The theatre has been rebuilt, but the unassuming street entrance has been preserved intact; the seats no longer squeak in chorus as everyone rises for “The Soldiers Song”; the Talbot Hotel has lost its view of the gasworks. The Chairman of the Wexford Festival still greets every operagoer with a smile at the door – for every performance.

Wexford, for all its awards and now wider recognition, is still the friendly Brigadoon conceived by Dr. Tom. Grab tickets if you still can – and be there when it emerges from the mist again on October 19th. If you can’t make it I’ll let you know if it was any good.