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Strawberry Spirit

It’s not easy being a small town in rural Ireland these days.

Businesses are closing, young people are emigrating and in many cases the lifeblood of a lot of once vibrant towns is being drained away. The challenges facing these towns are huge and the government coffers are empty.

However, that’s not to say that all is lost and, to its credit, the Enniscorthy community seems to be rising to the challenge.

It’s a town I, like many others, usually just pass through on my way to Dublin, though I spent a few weeks working there last year and will again this year I’m sure.

My last visit there was for a piece for the Irish Times on the re-opening of Enniscorthy Castle, which was a great development for the town, which is steeped in history, and well worth a visit. It’s informative, uncluttered and has a nice social history aspect, always the most enjoyable part for me.

Hot on its heels was the recent installation of a new footbridge over the Slaney, which has extended the prom into a longer and (I’m assured by my colleagues from that part of the world) lovely riverside walk. I’ll be giving it a spin on my next working sojourn in Enniscorthy.

This weekend is a big one for the town as the long-running Strawberry Festival is taking place, here’s a preview piece I wrote about it.

It’s fair to say that the festival had lost its lustre in recent years and last year’s effort – for various reasons – was not well received in most quarters. But, the response to that setback has been emphatic.

The festival is back. It’s bigger and it should be a lot better. A huge amount of work has gone into it and there’s a wide range of events taking place, a lot of them for free. Crucially, the line-up of bands is a lot better too and it seems to cater for younger and older fans (Rubberbandits and Saw Doctors, Jedward and UB40 etc) .

You can check out the festival and all the various events for yourself here. Visitors from further afield than Co Wexford are being encouraged to come too and you don’t need to book into a local hotel, with camping available at Bellefield GAA grounds.

From the many fringe events, such as jazz in Market Square to a public paranormal investigation of Enniscorthy Castle (I didn’t pick up anything on my visit there!), and the big gigs on the weekend nights, it should be a fun weekend.

I hope that all the time and energy (and money) that has gone into it pays off this weekend as it’s great to see a town putting its best foot forward and trying to bring about something positive.

There are many more worthwhile initiatives underway in Enniscorthy than I have touched on here, just like there are many problems that need addressing there and in other Co Wexford towns too.

This post is not to suggest that everything is rosy in the garden in Enniscorthy, but merely to point out that green shoots have been emerging quietly this year amid what can sometimes seem like an overpowering cacophony of negative news.

Let’s hope the town can bask in sunshine for its big Strawberry weekend. If you are looking for a good day out then maybe consider heading down to Enniscorthy.

P.S. Some of my talented colleagues from this office will be in action in Enniscorthy this weekend, so make sure to cheer on Darragh Clifford in the Strawberry Half Marathon and keep an eye (and ear) out for the musical stylings of Shea Tomkins!

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Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt

Wexford Special Olympian Carole Ryan

The reaction to Rory McIlroy’s fantastic win in the US Open shows clearly the effect that a sporting triumph can still have on the mood of our country.

His skill, determination, nerve and courage – following his collapse in the final round of the US Masters in Augusta – were outstanding throughout his record-breaking four days.

Golf has rarely has as many fans in Ireland as it did on Sunday night and the prodigiously talented 22-year-old golfer from Hollywood also excelled in his humble and mature reaction to what should be the first of many majors.

It was a win that lifted the mood of a nation, as great sporting triumphs tend to do.

We’re spoiled for choice at the moment when it comes to sports. Wimbledon has just started and the GAA season is in full swing, but it’s in Athens, starting next Sunday, where the most remarkable Irish athletes will be action.

The Irish Special Olympics team jetted out to Athens this (Monday) morning, ahead of next weekend’s opening ceremony.

7,500 athletes from 185 countries will be taking part and Ireland is punching well above its weight, sending out 126 athletes (from 12-year-old Fergal Gregory from Armagh to 69-year-old Mary Quigley from Carlow) and 49 coaches – the tenth biggest delegation in the Special Olympics World summer Games.

They will be supported by 200 volunteers and more than 400 family members making the trip to Athens for the games, which take place from June 25 to July 4. These are the people who – without fuss or fanfare – keep the country’s many Special Olympics clubs going and providing such a vital outlet for their many members, only a fraction of whom are going to Greece.

Four athletes from Wexford Special Olympics Club are on the Irish team and the club has coaches and volunteers making the journey too.  Wexford will be represented in badminton by Bernadette Kennedy from Gorey, in gymnastics by Carole Ryan from Newtown (just outside Wexford town) and in table tennis by Mary O’Brien from Duncormick and Ann Marie Talbot from Enniscorthy.

These athletes have dedicated a huge amount of time and energy to their respective disciplines and it would great to see them return home with medals. But, whatever the outcome, theirs is not a sporting triumph, it’s a triumph of the human spirit, which can’t be measured in gold, silver or bronze.

At a time when Ireland and Greece are making headlines all over the world for very different reasons and there’s sombre talk of huge challenges and insurmountable obstacles, we’d do well to keep an eye on sporting events in Athens in the days ahead, where there will be plenty of reasons to cheer and maybe just a little perspective on challenges and obstacles.

I spoke to Wexford gymnast Carole Ryan ahead of her departure.

My colleague David Medcalf spoke to Mary O’Brien and Anne-Marie Talbot.

And the Gorey Guardian’s Fintan Lambe talked to Bernadette Kennedy.