On the 22nd and 23rd September, as a major part of Festival Lough Erne, two regattas for Lough Erne Cots were organised in Enniskillen by Lough Erne Heritage. Lough Erne Heritage is a registered charity formed as a constituted group in March 2015 to promote and preserve the maritime heritage of Lough Erne. Lough Erne Cots, unique to Lough Erne, were a key feature of so much of the transport of people, livestock and of imported and exported goods for hundreds of years on Lough Erne.
Used by the many people who lived on the islands and around the shores of the lough to support their work, they were also on special occasions raced as part of the celebrations on a holiday, for example, the Knockninny Regatta held in the 1800s and after the yacht races at Crom.
Some of the early regattas, or competitions between boats, have now been recreated by Lough Erne Heritage and others added, not only providing some fun and healthy exercise but also drawing attention to one of the main strands or aspects of the heritage of the lough, transport of goods and people by water.
Enniskillen Regatta on Saturday 22nd of September was the last in a series of five organised around Lough Erne throughout the summer of 2018. The others being Knockninny, Belleek, Belturbet and Crom. Whilst the Lough Erne Cots were provided by Lough Erne Heritage, the essential part of any regatta is the crews or teams and for this we were delighted with the support from Enniskillen Royal Grammar School boat club. Gaye Conway produced crews, some of world standard and just back from the championships in Bulgaria and some parents also supported the Regatta. One team of ladies from Row the Erne also took part. Racing took place between the Broadmeadow and the historic Irvine`s Island and in front of the viewing area on the walls of the Castle.
The winners were a team of world-class rowers from the boat club who called themselves Iain`s Men and consisting of Barney Rix, Ryan Ballantine and Michael Kennedy. To step from a modern racing machine into a craft whose design may go back 2000 years must have been quite a shock but greatly appreciated by the organisers. Runners-up were team Row the Erne, Clare Brogan, Deirdre O`Brien and Nadine Grant. Sadly neither team was able to take part in the Lough Erne Regatta the next day.
The Lough Erne Regatta the next day Sunday 23rd September saw teams gather from Knockninny, Belleek, Crom and Belturbet from where Tommy McMahon brought three Junior teams who had their own regatta within the Lough Erne Regatta. With the teams came many supporters who lined along the shore and cheered their teams on, all making a great spectacle. From a calm day on Saturday where the boats started from their marks downstream with the current, Sunday brought strong northerly winds so the boats started upstream against the current as the north wind was stronger than the current was. The regatta was run very efficiently and it was no time before the winners were announced. Of the three junior teams from Belturbet, the winning team consisted of Peter Lennon, Luke Malvanny and Josh McKiernan. The runners-up in the adult section were Team McGovern from Belleek and winners and Lough Erne Champions for 2018 was Team Murphy`s Boys.
Along with the regattas, on display was another Lough Erne cot built by Liam Boyle and a Lough Erne Clinker built rowing boat built by George and Fred Ternan. Visitors to the regatta for the weekend were James and Tracy Hockley from Derry who brought along their Lough Foyle Punt with the intention of demonstrating its sailing abilities on Sunday but sadly the demonstration had to be cancelled due to the strong winds. However whilst on display alongside the Lough Erne boats it attracted much interest and the builder, William Campbell and his wife May were on hand to explain how he built a number of these boats when living in Derry. A Drontheim from the north coast was also to be on display but had to be cancelled due to illness in the family. Had the three boats been on display the connection between the Lough Erne boats and those from the north coast would have been seen.
The regattas had three support boats on the water manned by Eugene Brazil, Liam Boyle and Brian Osbourne, very experienced lough men and all wearing Personal Flotation Devices, as did all the competitors. The support boats also set the course which involved four turning marks and two start marks. On shore was St. Johns ambulance and in the organising committee was an RYA Yachtmaster and from the world of sailboat racing an experienced National Race Officer. Great interest was displayed from the members of the public and it would appear that there will be more Lough Erne Cots on the water next year with more communities from around the lough becoming involved.
Altogether a very safe and enjoyable regatta involving many people from Fermanagh, Cavan, Donegal, Derry and further afield who gained a wonderful experience of the unique islands of Enniskillen and the perfect setting for the regatta where it is hoped to feature more traditional boats next year.