Thoughts and reminiscences on Roscommon Lamb Festival

By Gerry Browne

Roscommon Lamb Festival meant many things to many different people. It celebrated the farming traditions our county is famous for, and it also embraced the many new nationalities who have made their homes here in recent years. It did this through cooking and serving locally produced food at events such as the Brazilian BBQ and The Global Kitchen, wool craft demonstrations, farm walks and heritage events.

  As we look back, it is good to remember those who were part of the festival but who are no longer with us. Oliver Burke was a prominent committee member who died suddenly during the festival in 2014. Oliver was the Chief Agricultural Officer with Teagasc at the time and he fully appreciated the importance of linking town and country as our events schedule tried to do. Oliver is remembered by the ‘Oliver Burke Memorial Trophy’ presented to the farmer with the best commercial ewe with twin lambs at the special sale at Roscommon Livestock Mart. The trophy is a sculpture of a ewe and lamb carved from Lecarrow limestone by local craftsman Mark Feeley.

  2008 was the inaugural year of the Roscommon Lamb Festival and Geraldo Marques, aka Toko, was the head chef at the famous Brazilian BBQ, held for the first time that year. The BBQ was one of our flagship events every year and it ‘converted’ many people to eating Roscommon lamb.

  Toko’s skills as a BBQ chef were legendary and he presided over many wedding feasts and other celebrations in the Roscommon area. He was a great horseman and an outstanding memory is that of Toko dressed in traditional Gaúcho clothes, riding at the front of the Lamb Festival float in the Easter Parade. He proudly carried the flag of his native Brazil alongside the primrose and blue flag of Ros Comán. Toko sadly succumbed to cancer in October 2016. Another member of that team, Pedro Mendez, died in a car crash in Brazil some years earlier.

  We also have very fond memories of the Rev. Liz McElhinney who hosted the ‘Thanksgiving for the flocks of the fields’ in St Coman’s Church of Ireland on the Wednesday night. This was an ecumenical event, and she was ably assisted in the early years by Monsignor Charles Travers. Both Liz and Charlie have since passed into the arms of The Good Shepherd who they served so faithfully in this life. So our joyful memories of the festival are tinged with sadness at the loss of these friends.

  Looking at old brochures, the memories come flooding back. Local playwrights Tommy Murray and Tom Costello wrote and staged plays at the mart and at the local Arts Centre, with Roscommon Drama Group as cast. The heritage events throughout the county were held with the help of Nollaig Feeney in the Heritage Office. I think also of the farm walks where people got to see the realities of sheep farming. The craft village sponsored by LEO, where local crafts people displayed their work. The handcrafts associated with wool from shearing, carding, spinning, and dyeing, to weaving a piece of cloth.

  The textile art of Frances Crowe and her fellow artists from Ireland and abroad. The 2013 ‘Gathering’ of female veterinary surgeons for the Aleen Cust memorial conference. The Roscommon Youth Talent competition organised by Gerry Jago. The International Sheepdog Trials in Walsh’s field, organised by Con McGarry.

  The Family fun day in Loughnaneane Park. Woodland and metal craft demonstrations by Muintir na Coille.  The Pet Lamb, Bo Peep and Boy Blue competitions for children. The food stalls, the archery demos, chainsaw carving, Billy Garvin’s one-man band, the ice cream on children’s faces, picnics in the park, the barrel train and its eccentric driver. The Tullyboy farm animals. The rare sheep breeds. The Alpacas. The climbing wall. The pony rides organised by Anthony Tully and the Roscommon Hunt. The ‘Dog and Duck Man’. The GAA inter-club sheep shearing competition. The hand shearing in the park.

  The Guinness Book of Record project for the most knitters at the one event in Dr Hyde Park. Wonderful memories of cooperation and hard work to promote our town and county…the ‘Wool Merchants Cup’ golfing competition, the céili on Sunday night. The Carers mini marathon on the Monday, organised by Bernie Dowling.

  Our thanks to the many stewards and volunteers who kept everyone safe in Loughnaneane Park at the Family fun day. Also, to the tidy towns committee who worked tirelessly to leave the park and the Square clean when the crowds departed. Thanks to The Civil Defence team for emergency services.

  In later years Macra na Feirme became involved and hosted dances on the Sunday night in the Marquee. It was great to see the younger people getting involved.

Our thanks also to the businesses, farmers and individuals who were our loyal sponsors over the years and who trusted us to use their contributions wisely in promotion of Ros Comáin.

  Our committee has now retired and in so doing creates a space for initiatives from a younger and more energetic group to continue the work of highlighting our county as a great place in which to live.