Thousands of families from across Northern Ireland enjoyed the River to Lough Festival on the shores of Lough Neagh. Dedicated to celebrating Lough Neagh Pollan, the first product in Northern Ireland to be awarded Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, the hugely popular festival provided visitors with an educational and fun day of entertainment and activities in various locations across County Antrim.
Showcasing the unique cultural heritage of Lough Neagh and its waterways, visitors experienced the ancient fishing tradition associated with the area and tasted samples rustled up by celebrity chef Paula McIntyre and chefs from across the area who created delicious dishes, including Lough Neagh Pollan and other local ingredients at food demos throughout the day.
With funding support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the festival centred around the newly open Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-op Visitors Centre where visitors met the fishermen and learned how they prepare and fish for pollan, and scientists explained the process while showing off many fascinating creatures from the lough, including live species in aquariums.
A treasure trove of local delicacies were available to sample and buy in the Food Pavilion and Ruairidh Morrison from North Coast Smokehouse prepared hot smoke pollan to whet the appetite.
There were food and craft demonstrations at the Lock Keepers Cottage where visitors could try their hand at canoeing from Toome Canal jetty and take a leisurely stroll along the Canal Walk before hopping on a RHIB for a short cruise up the Lower River Bann and onto Lough Neagh.
Cathy Chauhan, Product Development & Marketing Manager at Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative, said: “We knew the River to Lough Festival would be successful as it has gained a reputation as being one of Northern Ireland’s most unique food festivals but we could not have foreseen just how popular the already multi award winning event would be this year.
“Interest certainly centred around the new Lough Neagh Fisheries Visitor Centre and the factory as we provided an array of activities associated with fishing on Lough Neagh, with particular emphasis on pollan which visitors would not have experienced before.
“Visitors could follow the pollan life cycle trail, find out what they eat, where they breed and what makes them so special.
“We have certainly not seen anything like this year’s River To Lough Festival in this area before and we firmly believe that it has been the ultimate food festival in this year’s Taste The Island initiative.”
Gerry Darby, Lough Neagh Partnership, said: “The River to Lough Festival has become a key annual event in the Lough Neagh calendar and we are not at all surprised that this year’s festival was such a phenomenal success.
“There is nowhere else in Northern Ireland where visitors enjoy an experience like it. We really wanted to make the lough and its cultural heritage accessible to everyone and honour the PDO status achieved for Lough Neagh Pollan and we certainly did that in a magnificent way.
“Spreading the fun packed day over various locations on the shores of the lough also proved successful so visitors could see at first hand the traditional fishing methods handed down through generations and still employed today for capturing pollan, sample the locally produced food which we are immensely proud of and which is world renowned, experience the newly opened Lough Neagh Fisheries Visitors Centre and enjoy the uniqueness of our destination on a cruise of Lough Neagh.”
Pat Close, Chairman of the Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society (LNFCS), said: We were delighted to have had this opportunity to showcase the fishing industry on Lough Neagh providing all our visitors with an insight into the ecology of the unique natural resource which the Lough has been for generations and to learn about the traditions and culture of its fishing community.
“An event of this size and scope requires much planning and work particularly when centred around a working factory.
“I wish to pay tribute to all those who contributed to the success of the event and in particular to our fishermen and the AFBI Scientific Team who together brought the event to life with their demos and live exhibits.
“The participation of local businesses helped broaden the range of activities and attractions and proved very popular. I also wish to thank our support funders and sponsors.”
River to Lough Festival was one of 10 events in Northern Ireland supported by Taste The Island and was funded by Tourism NI, Northern Ireland Regional Food Programme Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Lough Neagh Partnership, Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership, Enkalon Foundation, Waterways Ireland, Mid Ulster District Council and Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council.