As part of the ISA's new initiative Sail Spree over the weekend of the Summer Solstice, the sheltered waters of Donegal’s Lough Swilly will spring to life with sails big and small, with the slap of oars and paddles. The shoreline and the golden sands of its beaches will play natural backdrop to theatre and games, to families and friends celebrating in the unique surroundings of our coastal environment.
No celebration would be complete without an plenty of local Donegal food on our tables: fresh fish and shellfish from our coastal waters; lamb, beef and pork from our fields – all of it turned into an exceptionally simple menu of regional cuisine by our talented local chefs.
“SeaFest Lough Swilly is an event for everyone,” says Mark Wheeler of Rathmullan House, one of the organisers. “For sailors and watersports enthusiasts, be they experienced or novice; for families in search of something active to do with the kids; for people who simply take pleasure in being at the seaside; and of course for everyone who enjoys good local food.”
The 2012 running of SeaFest follows on the very successful inaugural event of 2011. “We were extremely pleased and happy with how things went last year,” says Patricia McAteer, another of the organisers. “There was such an easy-going, family-friendly atmosphere, and so many happy faces. We want to recreate that buzz again this year, but also add a few new highlights to keep things fresh.”
Amongst the new highlights for 2012 – Donegal’s favourite folk trio, The Henry Girls, will be headlining the entertainment tent on Friday night, followed on Saturday by US-band Hillfolk Noir playing what they call ‘junkerdash’ and what others describe as psychedelic swamp-shack rags.
SeaFest opens on the evening of Friday, 22 June with the running of the ever-popular Rathmullan 5km. Afterwards, long-distance swimming legend, Anne Marie Ward, will lead the traditional blessing of the boats accompanied by the uplifting spirituals of Columcille Gospel Choir.
On Saturday, 23 June the action kicks off in earnest with a Kid’s Triathlon and a Try-a-Triathlon for adults. “This is a perfect opportunity for everyone interested in the sport to give it gentle, introductory try,” says Gavin Crawford of Letterkenny’s 24/7 Triathlon Club, the experts watching over this part of the SeaFest programme.
Saturday also sees the second annual running of the Saldanha Cup, a traditional keelboat sailing regatta commemorating the loss of the frigate, the HMS Saldanha. The regatta will start and finish off the pier in Rathmullan with a course taking in the site of the Saldanha wreck near spellbinding Ballymastocker Strand.
While the big boats are busy chasing each other up Lough Swilly, the smaller sails will come out to play in SeaFest’s dinghy regatta. “We’ve adopted a racing format for varying skill levels, from beginner to advanced, to encourage as many people as possible to participate,” says Rick LeVert, one of the volunteers behind Rathmullan’s community sailing programme. “Over the Seafest weekend we’ll also be running taster sessions in snorkeling, sea kayaking, paddle-boarding, windsurfing, and sailing, so no matter what you’re interested in, this is a great opportunity to give it a go.”
On Sunday, 24th June, a fleet of traditional currachs will go head-to-head in an event that is likely to be the highlight of the entire weekend. Thousands gathered on Rathmullan Pier last year to cheer on the rowers as they battled the wind, currents, and each other.
“This is our goal with SeaFest,” says Mark Wheeler, “to return to the traditional style of regatta that used to take place on Lough Swilly going as far back as the 1830s. Those events combined sailing with rowing. They were highly spectator-friendly, and more of a community celebration than the specialist events that many modern regattas have become.”
“SeaFest Lough Swilly is a marvellous example of a community coming together to make the most of its marine environment,” says Jan Feenstra, Managing Director of Marine Harvest Ireland. “We are delighted to be partnering with the festival again this year. Our employees are looking forward to once again playing an active role in the event, and we’re pleased to welcome visitors to our farm during the festival. Our support is part of our ongoing commitment to Lough Swilly and the other coastal communities around Ireland where we have a presence.”
The SeaFest shore-side programme is being assembled by the experts at the Earagail Arts Festival. Here too the emphasis is on tradition and activity. “At the heart of the programme are what we call vintage games,” says Earagail Arts Director, Paul Brown. “These are the traditional classics we all know and love – egg-and-spoon and sack races, sideshow standards such as the dunking booth and ring the bell – but presented with a real sense of drama, comedy, and excitement.”
That same sense of drama and excitement is on the menu in the SeaFest food tent where local organic pigs will be spit-roasted and fish from local waters smoked for all to see. “The experience will be as much about the theatre of great food as the taste,” says Mark Wheeler. “We have an adventurous culinary side programme planned, ranging from coastal foraging and kitchen gardening to demonstrations and talks, and we’re throwing a spotlight on Donegal potatoes and on the many wonders of the humble spud.”
So, whether you’re a water rat, landlubber, or food lover, put SeaFest in your diary for the 22nd, 23rd, 24th of June.
A final programme of activities and menus will be available online by June 1st 2012 at www.seafestloughswilly.com