Award winning festival axed after Tourism NI deny funding

Eamon Moore, Fisherman from Glenavy demonstrating his skills at River to Lough Festival in 2014
Eamon Moore, Fisherman from Glenavy demonstrating his skills at River to Lough Festival in 2014

An award winning festival that celebrates Lough Neagh has been cancelled just two months before its planned date, after being denied funding by Tourism NI.

The popular River to Lough event has been running since 2013, and having toured points of interest around the lough, was to take place at Oxford Island this year.

Supported in the past by councils in Mid Ulster and Antrim, the festival - which celebrates all Lough Neagh has to offer - has always been given funding from Tourism NI.

Last year the NI-wide organisation supported the event with a grant of £22,000 when it was held at Antrim Castle.

After its inception in 2013 at Toome Eel Fishery, festival management planned to make their way round Lough Neagh to reach as many Loughshore residents as possible.

But this year’s July 22-23 event, which was supported by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council, has had to be scrapped because Tourism NI did not offer any of the £25,000 grant applied for.

Eimear Kearney, Marketing manager for Lough Neagh Partnership said the council had agreed to part fund the event on the premise it would win some of Tourism NI’s budget.

“They said they were overwhelmed by applications,” she explained, but she added that they will try again next year.

As for the event itself, Eimear said “it was an award winning event” which provided a place in which to showcase all Lough Neagh has to offer in terms of business, tourism and culture.

A spokesperson for Tourism Northern Ireland said: “Tourism NI received 84 applications for events sponsorship from across Northern Ireland totalling over £2million in 2016/17.

“Applications were higher than in previous years with a record number of applications for a limited budget.

“The majority of applicants received less than applied for and unfortunately, as is the case every year, a number of applications were unsuccessful.”