Lamb Festival can become a major annual event

Laurence Fallon Chairperson, Roscommon Lamb Festival committee The popular County Councillor and retired sheep dealer Martin Connaughton, of Main Street, Athleague, approached me on the Square in Roscommon on Saturday afternoon and complained that Roscommon Lamb Festival placed lambs on a pedestal at the expense of all of the other types of sheep. ‘Why can’t this be a ram festival or a ewe festival?’ he asked! Thankfully Martin’s tongue seemed to be firmly placed in his cheek when he voiced that complaint, and overall I think it’s fair to say that he and all of the other Lamb Festival attendants enjoyed the weekend’s events. It is not unusual for people who are involved in the organisation of community events to take full credit for success, but certainly those of us who co-ordinated the Roscommon Lamb Festival take no credit for the excellent bank holiday weekend weather, which made the festival the great weekend that it was. We were blessed with sunshine every day, and people eagerly came out to support it as a result. This was the inaugural Roscommon Lamb Festival, and we were fortunate to have organised several attractive events that seemed to capture people’s attention. We got a positive reaction to each festival activity and the profile of locally produced lamb is greatly raised, which was the festival’s over-riding objective. Without doubt the celebrity TV chef Rachel Allen stole the show – and the festival! – with the feast that she prepared in the Abbey Hotel on Friday night. More than 170 people attended the feast, and Ms. Allen charmed us all.  Her personality is at least as rich as her cookery: she visited every table twice, served a wonderful meal in conjunction with the magnificent Abbey Hotel staff, and enjoyed a glass of the wine that was sponsored by Tindal. The meal was great advertisement for the produce of local farmers Pat Naughton, Stonepark, and Seán Murray, Moneymore, Knockcroghery, who provided the lamb for the feast. The ‘Wool Alone’ fashion show that took place on the first night of the festival was a great success, even for the four brave men who attended! It is not my wish to create trouble in any house – I cause enough in my own – but John Corcoran of Corcoran’s Menswear and Tom Mannion of Stonepark were both reportedly very disappointed to have been late for the ladies fashion display! We were very pleased with the special sale that took place in Roscommon Mart on Wednesday morning. There were four times more sheep on sale than usual, and prices were up substantially. All the major Connacht buyers were actively present. The pet lamb competition attracted a great crowd on Saturday morning, with big lambs, small lambs, black lambs, white lambs and lambs in county colours present. Lisa Dolan, Fairhill, Dysart, was the owner of the winning lamb. The lamb pageant was very good fun, and Roscommon’s Joe Fallon received the highest price, when Tesco Ireland bought his lamb for €500. Our thanks to IFA President Padraig Walshe, who officially opened the festival, and William Gacquin of Roscommon CBS who presented a historical perspective of Roscommon sheep farming at the official opening. There was keen competition at the sheep shearing competition, with Dominic Black, Liam Dolan, and David Connnaughton, all wishing to display their skills. The real man among them was Andy Connaughton from Sandfield, though, who sheared sheep with a traditional hand shears. Dr. Frank Crosby of UCD told farmers and meat processors a few home truths at the seminar on sheep production on Thursday night. He told the factories that they had to pay the farmers more money for their produce, and that they had to pass on to the farmers the extra money generated by value added products. The farmers were told that they hadn’t improved efficiency since the late 1970s and that they have no future producing 1.3 lambs per ewe annually. Minister Mary Coughlan launched the Bord Bia spring lamb promotion on Thursday. She expressed concern that she wouldn’t have a State car by this week, but we soothed her and told her she’d get a bigger one from Brian Cowen! We were right too! Eamon Egan and Dan Moran’s demonstrations attracted significant crowds – including the Irish Times photographer – and many people also converged on the square for the tractor re-assembly speed event, where four men put the tractor together again in less than 11 minutes. The Brazilian styled barbeque became a victim of its own success, with significant numbers of people having to be turned away because they didn’t have tickets. Indeed such was the demand that 20 people did not receive an adequate meal and were offered a refund. I want, on a personal note, to thank all of the people who came together to organise the inaugural Lamb Festival. It is dangerous to name names, but here goes! The dedication and hard work of Patsy Daly, Denis O’Brien, and Martina Larkin ensured that this event ran very smoothly and was a great success. Thanks also to An Garda Síochána, Roscommon County Council, Roscommon CBS, and the Order of Malta for their support. On behalf of the committee, I thank all of our generous sponsors for their tremendous commitment to their community.  We reserve a special word for the staff and associates of Lamb Festival sponsors FBD, who were bereaved by the loss of their Chief Executive Philip Fitzsimons, RIP, last weekend. We sympathise with his family and his colleagues. Most of all I wish to thank the people of County Roscommon for supporting the festival and ensuring that it succeeded. We are grateful for your support and we are confident that locally produced lamb has been elevated in the minds of the people of the county, which was our objective. It is planned to hold the festival annually and, while Martin Connaughton’s suggestion will undoubtedly be discussed at length at the next meeting of the Lamb Festival committee, it is not envisaged that it will be a ‘ewe’ or a ‘ram’ event!   Thanks for your support!