A free Irish extravaganza celebrating the anniversary of Australia’s most outrageous prison escape, the Catalpa rescue, has been endorsed by Rockingham council to continue and expand next year. In 1876, six Irish convicts imprisoned in Australia for being a part of the Irish Republican Brotherhood escaped Fremantle Prison to Rockingham, where they fled on to a phoney whaling ship waiting offshore named Catalpa, before sailing to New York. Since then the legacy of the six Irishmen’s extraordinary escape has grown to become part of not only Rockingham’s history but WA’s. A festival commemorating the escape was first held earlier this year and is set to grow in 2024 with several new activities planned. Some of the events planned for 2024 are a hurling display, skits, roving entertainment, dancing, historical exhibitions, activities for kids and even a Gaelic football match. The chairman of the committee organising the event, former Rockingham mayor Laurie Smith, believes the occasion is a significant moment in WA’s history. “The most momentous thing that has happened in WA maritime history is the Catalpa rescue of the six Fenians out of Fremantle Prison,” he said. Mr Smith believes that while recognising and sharing the history of the event with those in the local community is essential, the event will attract a much wider audience as it grows and closes in on the 150-year anniversary of the breakout. “We want to make sure that by 2026 that when visitors come from Ireland and America, which I’m told they will in their hundreds, they’ll know that it’s a twin celebration between Fremantle and Rockingham,” he said. The former mayor is satisfied with the funding provided by the council and several other generous organisations, which has allowed the event to prosper and believes it will bring tourists to the town. “Last year was our first year and we ended up getting nearly 7000 people,” he said. “So, we did pretty well and most of those were from outside of Rockingham “Next year’s events will have $100,000 more spent on it than we did this year.” The organisation in charge of the committee, Rockingham Tourism, said they intend to continue to expand the event each year in scope, size and reputation in time for the 150-year anniversary of the rescue in 2026. Speaking at Rockingham’s council meeting last week, councillor Craig Buchanan said he was pleased for the event to continue and hoped to see it develop in time for the anniversary. “The number that attended (this year’s festival) showed that there was a willingness to mark that event, both in the Irish community, the broader WA community and indeed the international community,” he said. “The aim last year, when this event first came to us, was to start off at a reasonably small level and to grow the event towards next year’s much larger projected event when the anniversary comes through.” Next year’s festival is currently planned to take place on Easter Sunday and Monday, March 31–April 1.