Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan highlighted the innovative nature of the North/South youth exchange at the Waterways Ireland Scariff Harbour Festival.
Commenting prior to the launch on Friday, Minister Deenihan said, “I know that it takes a lot of community effort and hard work to host a festival of this nature and it is important to acknowledge those who have supported you over the years.
This year you have increased the events and gone a step further building on the success of previous years and including new elements to the festival. Last year it was the innovative ‘game of three halves’ and this year Scariff Harbour Festival has partnered with Clare Youth Service and Peace Players International (NI) in organising a North/South exchange of young people.
“I’m sure the shared journey on our waterways will provide some great insights into our shared heritage, and support important peace and reconciliation.”
He received a rousing reception from a group of 14 young people as they journeyed up the Scariff River in a flotilla of boats for the opening. They were joined by the new chief of Waterways Ireland, Dawn Livingstone and all were welcomed by the festival committee chairman, Michael Rodgers.
The youth exchange leaders Emma Sams, Rebecca Simons, James Hughes and Pablo Cordoba from Clare and Belfast and participants were especially acknowledged by the minister for the venture, their engagement in workshops and activities they conducted in peace and reconciliation.
Sean Johnston from west Belfast, a member of the exchange group, said “I was nervous when I first met the group from the Republic in Carlingford but we’re like family now and I don’t want it to end.”
After a tour of Belfast organised for the Clare contingent, the exchange group travelled along the course of the Shannon from Enniskillen and linked up with a youth club in Birr, County Offaly before heading south to Scariff.
Emily Childs from Shannon said their view of Belfast had totally changed.
“We believed that Belfast was dangerous and the Troubles were still happening but our tour of Belfast was amazing and our conversations with the Northern group have definitely changed our view. They are now our friends,” she said. PeacePlayers International (NI) and Clare Youth Service jointly planned the event, which was funded by Leargas and the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“Waterways Ireland has created a fabulous resource. It has created another destination for the waterways user on Lough Derg and a foundation on which the community can build – not just for the weekend of the Scariff Harbour Festival but a social and business life, which integrates the opportunities that these facilities and the waterways bring,” Minister Deenihan said.
Despite a torrential downpour and a brief thunder and lightning storm on Saturday night, spirits were not dampened and up to 4,000 people gathered in the East Clare town over the four-day event.
“We have a small team but a strong team of committed volunteers who deliver this festival year after year. I am indebted to each and everyone who has contributed in any way be it time, labour or finance,” Michael Rodgers, chairman of Waterways Ireland Scariff Harbour Festival said.
During the festival Ciara Minogue (19) from Feakle was chosen from 12 contestants as the winner of the Queen of the Waterways competition. She follows in the footsteps of last year’s winner, Denise Walshe, who told the large crowd how much the title meant to her over the past year.
Ciara Minogue has just completed her first year as a home economics student at St Angela’s College in Sligo. Ciara is also the Feakle junior camogie captain. Local girl, Ailbhe Rodgers presented each of the contestants with a sterling silver neckpiece and the on-stage interviews were conducted by former RTÉ presenter, Ciana Campbell.
Meanwhile, Sean McKinley from Belfast and a member of the North/South Youth Exchange, scooped the Cross Border Young Anglers competition winning title with his 1lb 7oz trout catch. The event was organised by local fishing clubs and saw 41 young people out on Lough Derg on Sunday.
In addition to Damien Dempsey, top festival performances included Ryan Sheridan, Scullion, Frances Black, local groups Good Medicine and Connectors and folk and contemporary music by musicians and singers including Kate Purcell, Denise Glass, Cliodhna Donnellan, Theresa Larkin and others. Druid Chef Rory Morahan demonstrated his skills using local produce while others enjoyed walks and talks, workshops and circus acts, boat and wagon tours and street craft skills demonstrations.
The festival was brought to a close with the Awbeg/Five Counties Céilí Band and local set dancers.