A look back at the European Festival
Updated: May 14, 2019
20 years ago when I was just 18 years old, I was given the chance to go to my very first European Festival that was being held in Portugal and I was contacted 36 hours before the event and asked if I had a passport and wanted to cycle for Ireland.
At the drop of a hat, I had my bags and bike packed and was on a 3-day bus ride through England, France and my new home Spain with a brand new passport which I was lucky to get the day before thanks to a letter from the town council saying that I was representing Ireland. I had heard lots of stories of the previous European People’s Festivals but I wasn't part of the Athlone festival in 1996.
I might not have been their first choice for the cycling competition but I found myself saddling up for a few more festivals over the following years.
Attending infrequently ever since I have even found myself on horseback, skates, another bike and a dragon boat on the Danube, I even found myself dressed as an eight-foot leprechaun in Luxembourg with Tonta,
Volunteering for different sports and activities over the years, I ended up cycling, playing chess, and rollerblading in Luxembourg in 2002.
And Taking shots at Archery and Photography in Italy in 2006. I even managed to hit a bullseye in that competition.
In 2010, a Finish girl contacted me to see if I could swim for Finland as their delegation was, well, delegating and I agreed.
I needed an excuse to go to Hungary so I volunteered to do archery again for Athlone.
Unlike Italy´s static targets, this event was more like a medieval joust, shooting with basic bows and arrows like Mongols would have used, we hit normal targets and then balloons up a tree.
One stage involved spear throwing and the final stage to my surprise involved trying to hit three targets on horseback. I hit nothing and luckily no one. An Irish girl then hopped on the horse and took her turn, hitting each target, like she had claimed she would. Impressive.
When the festival returned to Athlone, I took time off work to volunteer and enjoy the incredible atmosphere of the EPF event being held at home. My last outing for the European Festival was back in Luxembourg 2012 when the Finns asked me to be part of their ping-pong team. After that disastrous attempt, Finland nor Ireland never asked me if I had a passport and wanted to go to a European People´s Festival, EPF has it is commonly known.
So riding horses, bicycles, rowing, swimming, taking pictures and missing targets, There are so many stories from events and activities held in these European countries, friends met, cities visited and drinks shared.
The European Festival is an incredible experience for young and old and one of my many highlights was when I jumped on stage, camera in hand to take pictures of the Irish dancers and singers.
An electrifying experience as thunder and lighting erupted all around us and the epic thunderstruck concert had to be abandoned due to fears of lighting striking the stage.
You don’t have to worship Thor but I´m sure our Viking friends in the Danish delegation must have enjoyed the charged atmosphere from the talented Irish team.
Thanks to Minister Cooney´s work at European level, Athlone has been very fortunate to have been chosen as the Irish town to host the events and many mayors and Athlonians have enjoyed the festivities over the years. The late Austin Berry used to tell me about his time as a musician and not politician at the first festival in 1992 and I am sure many have fond memories of dancing, sports, cooking and other cultural events held all over Europe since the early days of European co-operation. Many friendships have been formed but when we look at Brexit, maybe it would have been better to have representatives from England as we know how the United Kingdom´s Scotish delegation would have voted.
Congratulation to all who took part in France´s festival last year and won the coveted Fair Play award and best of luck to all those taking part in Latvia at the moment. I’m sure there will be many stories to tell and remember what happens at the European Festival stays in, Latvia, Lithuania, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Scotland, Spain, Portugal and Athlone.
If you can't make the next festival, at least don’t miss it whenever it returns to Athlone.