Big thank you from

Lough Neagh has wonderful potential for tourism

By the Rambler 8/11/2003

THE banks of Lough Neagh, about or waxed the bard of bygone centuries waxed lyrical, have a wonderful potential for the development of tourism, which has so far not been fully exploited.

The rescue and development of the age-old basket making craft, about which I have written so much, is but one example.

Recently a Willow Walk organised as part of a programme planned by Mr Bushby of the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, took in the townland of the Montiaghs - heartland of the osier culture and basket making industry and the Gawley' Gate Inn.

It had received fair publicity, but it was only when several score walkers crowded the local boreens that local residents took notice. Walkers came from far afield and enjoyed the scenery and the itinerary. I am told that places like Markethill, Portadown and Glenavy, for example, were well represented at Hannon's, participants were able to view specimens of locally crafted ware and also various species of willow growing from setts. They also got a viewing at the Inn, of the video for schools based on the publications were was launched at Lisburn Museum in 1991. As well, an interesting talk was given by Pascal Downing a local collector of lore.

Coinciding with the impending retirement of Jimmy Mulholland, the last active local craftsman, the Walk was well timed.

The founder of the Chestnut Hill (Moira) school was an interested participant and it is heartening to learn that his classes have been resumed for the winter session.

But more is needed - now. Time is running out. Definitely, more needs to be done now. There are two well-skilled willow weavers residing in the Aghagallon/Aghalee area whose expertise needs to be exploited. I am not permitted to name names.

As long ago as 1991 the author of the book (and the related video) cited the example of the Bavarians in the field and pointed to the need to harness all the remaining local potential.

Many other areas of the country, indeed of many other countries, would give their eye teeth to gain such an obvious tourism potential. Dublin TV has already exploited it.

Last week's geographic support for the Willow Walk should be an incentive to local talent to get cracking.

Is there scope, for example within the Lough Neagh Regeneration Plan, or the Discovery Centre programme, for setting up a platform for experienced local craftsmen to give at least occasional demonstrations, if they are not geared to take on regular tuition?

The local craftsmen whom I have my eyes on are vital links in a chain of inherited talent for preserving the remnants of a craft which is well worth rescuing from extinction.

Some of our own television channels could also give a fillip.

• Osier Culture and Basketmaking. ISBN 09518153 OX

Ulster Star