A SCOTTISH island festival taking place this week (5-8 July) is the toast of Europe, and is celebrating strengthened links with Irish neighbours, all thanks to a 44-mile rowing challenge held last year.
The inaugural Festival of the Sea and Colmcille Rowing Challenge was held on the island of Islay off the west coast of Argyll in July 2011.
Representatives from County Donegal contacted the Scottish islanders and asked if they would be willing to take part in a challenge – rowing from Islay to Inishowen in traditional boats in order to forge closer links between the two communities.
Two boats from each country set off on their 44-mile trip, with a festival being held on each side of the Irish Sea to celebrate.
The event was run by Islay and Jura CVS’s South Islay project, coordinated by local rowing group the Lagavulin Fundraisers, and funded by Argyll and the Islands LEADER and Awards for All.
Such was the popularity of the 2011 festival, local community development company South Islay Development had the confidence to go it alone and become an independent charitable organisation in October 2011.
They have also decided to run the festival again in 2012.
South Islay Development is supported by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).
Part of this support includes funding to recruit a local development officer to work closely with the community on projects such as this which benefit the area as a whole.
Local Development officer, Kirsten Laurie, is delighted at the success of the original event.
She said: “The 2011 event was a first for Islay and we were delighted to host our Irish visitors. As part of the celebration there were Gaelic boat terminology sessions on the green, sailing classes and ceilidhs with both local and Irish musicians. The entire event was so successful that we decided to hold it again this year.
“While we are not having the rowing challenge part of the event this year, artist, author and boatbuilder Donal McPolin will be building a traditional Irish boat called a currach from scratch using hazel foraged from around Islay. He is building it live on Leodamus Green, Port Ellen in the week leading up to the festival.”
The Festival of the Sea and Colmcille Rowing Challenge proved popular further afield than Islay and Donegal, with congratulations sent from both Buckingham Palace and Brussels.
A letter of congratulations was received by organiser Don McGinlay from The Honourable Miss Mary Morrison, Lady-in-Waiting to Her Majesty the Queen, aunt of the current Lord Margadale of Islay.
The story of the event featured in the latest edition of the EU Rural Review as an example of a successful transnational project by The European Network for Rural Development, with details also presented at a committee meeting in Brussels on 31 May 2012.
Eleanor McNab, community development officer for Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said: “South Islay has always had a strong voluntary sector and the community development process has pulled the community together and provided resources to deliver successful projects such as the Festival of the Sea.
“Recognition of the success of the group at the highest level will encourage the group as they go on to tackle a range of community projects.”
This year funding for the Festival of the Sea has been sourced from Argyll and Bute Council’s Third Sector Grants with support from local fundraising.
Councillor Robin Currie, from Argyll and Bute Council, commented: “This year’s Festival of the Sea programme is an exciting one and builds on last year’s success. I wish them all the best and am delighted that as a Council we are able to give support to what is now an important event in Islay’s social calendar.”
The 2012 Festival of the Sea will run from the 5th to the 8th July in and around Port Ellen on Islay.
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