11-13th October 2013

In the 2012 edition of An Caisleán, we outlined our intention of hosting a Gathering in Castleconnell in 2013 to follow on our success in the National Pride-of-place completion that had just been announced.   

Initiated by the Castleconnell Development Association, the project began in earnest in November 2012 when a group of people came together and produced a series of ideas – some exciting, some interesting and some clearly challenging!  This committee was made of stern stuff and we really wanted to target a Gathering to remember and build on, focusing on both the history and facilities in the area.

An idea came forward – to create an annual International Fly Casting event to commemorate the exploits of our very own John Enright World Flycasting Champion 1896 – 1906.  Fly casting is still very popular and research identified some local exponents and most notably Ruairi Costelloe from Scariff, Co. Clare who was the 2010 World Champion and his fellow fly caster Stephen Slattery from Limerick.  Both joined our committee and shared their expertise.

The committee became a project team and focused on building a three day festival around both a Spey O Mega Competition on the river in Doonass and an Overhead Casting Competition on the grounds of the Castle Oaks Hotel in Castleconnell.   A website www.johnenrightfestival.com was designed and a Facebook page www.facebook.com/Johnenrightfestival produced to spread the news.   Soon we were targeting all sorts of media opportunities via flyers to houses, newspapers, posters in business premises, targeted emails, links to other organisations, parish notes etc.   Events like this cannot happen without sponsorship and the committee is extremely grateful for the most generous sponsorship of Limerick County Council and a host of local businesses who all received due credit at the event.

 Preparations continued and draft time tables came and went as fine tuning was essential to maximise the time available.  Invitations went out far and wide and the excitement started to build when we began hearing the Russians were coming, the Norwegians were coming, the Americans and Canadians were coming, as well as our near neighbours in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland!   Of course we had our own home grown talent from around Ireland who did us proud, by showing their abilities against the top casters in the world.   

From Tuesday 8th October the competitors started arriving to practice – there were certainly taking it seriously!   By Friday 11th all competitors were here and the event was launched in the Castle Oaks Hotel with John Enright’s direct descendant George Lee performing the opening ceremony and welcoming the competitors.   An excellent exhibition of John Enright memorabilia accompanied by a Fly Tying demonstration attracted huge attention from villagers and competitors alike.   The evening ended in a traditional music session in Guerin’s Bar where the surroundings stirred many memories of fly casting and fishing in Castleconnell.

Next day it was down to the serious business of competing in the Saturday qualifiers in both Doonass and Castleconnell in near perfect conditions.  Competitors and onlookers really enjoyed the atmosphere and the camaraderie between the competitors was there for all to see.

This was a festival however and a programme of events had been put together by the committee to satisfy young and old alike.   Casting lessons, a weekend ‘Memories of Castleconnell’ shop, kiddies disco, magic show, tag rugby, children’s art classes, painting by the riverside etc. were all made available which helped make this a weekend to remember.

The Saturday evening entertainment moved this time to the Shannon Inn, the former home of the Enright family, and a great Jazz session followed by a party sing-along ensured we left the visitors in no doubt that the village has a lot to offer!

Sunday 13th saw the weather continue to favour us and the finalists were ready to go after the big prizes.   The Spey O Mega finals were held in Doonass and close competition saw reigning world champion Geir Hansen from Norway winning the Men’s competition with Marcy L. Stone from the United States winning the Ladies competition.  Our own Ruairi Costelloe finished a very credible 3rd place in the Men’s.

In the afternoon, the tables were turned a little when another Norwegian, Vidar Ness, won the John Enright Overhead Casting Competition with a marvellous 52.48 metre cast while Ally Bremer from England excelled and won the Ladies competition.  Ruairi Costelloe, one of our Irish representatives, finished second in the overhead competition – just pipped by 5 centimetres.  Congratulations to all our winners and all the competitors who fought bravely over the two days.

While the casting competitions were progressing at Doonass and on the lawn at the Castle Oaks Hotel, the village was alive with festival activities on the Sunday.  The Memories of Castleconnell shop and the Children’s Art Workshop were among the activities organised at the ACM Community Centre.  A beautiful October day facilitated ‘a paint out by the river’ mentored by local artist Barbara Hartigan, while those interested in developing their casting skills took the opportunity and participated in the ‘Have A Go Competition’.

One of the highlights of the festival was the arrival in the village of the horse drawn carriage of the John Enright era accompanied by local villagers who dressed up in Victorian garb. Photo opportunities galore prevailed, please go to our website and Facebook page for the evidence!

Sunday evening and we are nearly there! A magnificent gala meal in the Castle Oaks was followed by the presentation of prizes for both competitions and music into the early hours.  New friendships were made and old ones rekindled and even thoughts drifted to 2014.  Can we do it again? Can we make it even better?  Can we get even more competitors?  

All agreed however, that it was a weekend to remember.  Huge thanks has to go to all those who made it a success.  The competitors, the visitors, the sponsors, local residents, who came out in numbers to support the local groups and organisations.  And thanks to the management and staff of the Castle Oaks and of course, the committee, who spent 12 months planning it namely Eamonn McQuade, John Mac Namara (Chairman), Colm Martin, Brendan Murphy, Bernie Murnane (Secretary), Angela Dempsey (Treasurer), Catherine O’Doherty, Stephen Slattery, Ruairi Costello, Henry Nash, George Lee,  Majella Hynan and Gobnait O’Connell.

Yes it can happen again – Castleconnell may just have another annual festival!

Brendan Murphy