Flying high over Birr

SKIES around the town of Birr are awash with colour this week as it hosts the 41st Irish Hot Air Balloon Championships, sponsored by Shannon Development, Failte Ireland and the Offaly Local Development Company.

SKIES around the town of Birr are awash with colour this week as it hosts the 41st Irish Hot Air Balloon Championships, sponsored by Shannon Development, Failte Ireland and the Offaly Local Development Company.

The event was launched recently by Dr Leo Varadkar TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.

Speaking at the launch, Bernie Leonard, Shannon Development’s Tourism Officer for South Offaly and North Tipperary said; “Shannon Development is delighted to sponsor this exciting and uplifting event which will provide a major boost for the local economy. We estimate that this year’s event will generate in excess of €200,000 spend in the local area.”

It is anticipated that over 40 balloons will attend this event which will run September 25 to 30, making it one of the biggest ballooning occasions ever to take place in Ireland and it will attract participants from all over the world.

The Irish Hot Air Balloon Championships is also the longest running balloon meet in the world, a fantastic achievement considering that at all times it has been run on a voluntary basis.

The balloonists will compete in tasks ranging from “Hare & Hounds” which is when one balloon takes off and all other balloons take off ten minutes later and try to land closest to the lead balloon.

“Bog Hopping” which involves flying low over the bog and peat ridges and collecting bog cotton and buckets of water from the river Shannon.

This event is very family orientated and it is expected that large numbers will come to the launch site at Birr Castle Demesne to see the balloons take off in the evenings, weather permitting. pilots from America, Netherlands, United Kingdom, and of course, Ireland will be represented at the championships.

The 2011 Meet Director is Joseph Leahy from Navan, an experienced balloon pilot and event organiser, who has performed the duties of Championship Director for Irish Hot Air Ballooning on many occasions. He also has the claim to fame of running the biggest balloon meet ever to take place in the country, with 58 balloons at the Championships in Ballymahon in 2010.