GALLERY: French visitors to Offaly enjoy a true 'Grand Slam' on St Patrick's weekend

Ballycommon, Ballinagar and Geashill Town Twinning Committee put on packed programme for guests from Jaux

After months of preparation by the Ballycommon, Ballinagar and Geashill (BBG) Town Twinning Committee, the time had come for the second landing of the French from Jaux France.

As the host families waited patiently for their now established French friends to arrive on Thursday night, the French were in high spirits as they left their homes in Jaux and they made their way to Beauvais Airport, adorned in green.

Photos were sent on WhatsApp keeping the BBG committee and host families up to date of their journey. Once the delegation touched down in Dublin airport, they were met by their driver from Ballycommon, Eugene Hoey, and another update was sent on WhatsApp to confirm their safe arrival and eventually at 2am the last drop was made to the last host family. A quick bonjour and off to bed.

There was an early start the next day as the delegation along with the BBG committee arrived in Geashill NS to be treated to a very special welcome. The hall was filled to capacity with children, teachers and parents. The proceedings were opened by Principal Micheál Hyland who welcomed the group dans Francais, Gaeilge and English.

As the school has special classes for deaf children the 6th class children who learn sign language in order to communicate with all children, then welcomed the visitors in sign language which received a rapturous applause. The group were then treated to a fantastic programme of music, singing, dancing, and drama (dans Francais). Included in the group were a small group of children from Ballinagar NS, which was closed for the day, but they dressed in their uniforms in order to meet the visitors.

The delegation from France were amazed at the talents of the children and the quality of the programme that the teachers put together. The children presented beautiful gifts to the delegation and the Mayor of Jaux, Mr Michel Jeannerot and Jaux Town Twinning Chairperson, Mr JC Auge made a presentation to the school of a beautiful book and French flag. JC Augé, Mayor Jeannerot and Margo Sheil thanked the principal, teachers and children for the fabulous concert.

The group then were treated to a lovely morning tea and coffee and were able to meet the teachers for a chat before driving to Cappagh School where they were met in the school yard by all of the children, teachers and parents. Following a welcome dans Francais, Gaeilge and English by school Principal Niall Kinnarney, the children showcased their amazing talents in poetry, singing, music and dance. The teachers also displayed their musical talents as they accompanied the children on guitar, fiddle, recorder and flute. The ex-principal Frank Brennan also attended the gathering and treated the group to some great fiddle playing along with Ms Marie Gerraghty , which resulted in the whole school, teachers, French visitors, BBG committee all getting up to dance Shoe The Donkey, an amazing impromptu experience for all involved. The children presented beautiful gifts to the delegation and Mayor Jennerot and Mr JC Augé presented the school with a French flag and a book of the region around Jaux. Before their departure to Edenderry Municipal Council, JC Augé, Mayor Jeannerot and Margo Sheil thanked the principal, teachers and the children for the amazing concert.

The group then made their way to Edenderry Town Hall and were greeted on the steps by Cathaoirleach Clr Noel Bourke, Head of Finance, Declan Conlon and Josephine Lee Staff Officer, Edenderry Municipal District. The group were then joined by Principal of Scoil Na Croise Naofa Geashill national school Micheál Hyland, Ms Marie Gerraghty Cappagh Ns and Ms. Mary Dunican St. Colemans NS, Cappagh and Michael Keoghan. Scoil Sheosaimh Naofa, Ballinagar National school were represented by Parents Association Secretary Denise Keoghan. There was a champagne reception followed by a formal greeting by the Edenderry Dignitaries and the French Dignitaries.

Formal gifts were made by the council to the French visitors and a copy of the twinning agreement was presented to the three schools by Declan Conlon. The French visitors also presented gifts to the council, BBG committee and to Ballinagar school via parents association representative Denise Keoghan. Margo Sheil gave an update of the project and thanked all the parties for their support in making the project so successful, most specifically Edenderry Municipal council, schools, businesses, the BBG committee and the children who are the future of the project. The group then relaxed to a beautifully prepared lunch in the town hall, chatting to each other and enjoying the occasion.

The group departed Edenderry for the host family homes for some much needed relaxation and to spend some time with the host families and have dinner before going to Hamiltons in Geashill for a night of ceoil and cáinte with the Brady, Dunne and Carroll family providing the music. A big thank you to Jim and Catherine Hamilton for providing food on the night.

St. Patrick’s Day

Planning for the St. Patrick’s Day parade started back in October 2017 when the committee sought to merge the success of the three schools getting involved in the area with the project and their need to grow the awareness of the project in the committee. Many ideas were proposed but we didn’t expect the coldness of our national saint’s day! When it gets cold in Ireland it can truly cut right to the bone. However, ‘The Beast from the East’ didn’t stop the enthusiasm and vigour of the BBG schools Cappagh, Ballinagar and Geashill walking together in the parade behind the BBG handmade large shamrock and BBG banner. Following mass in Raheen and Ballycommon, the French delegation met with the three schools and walked from the cinema in the Bridge Centre car park Tullamore around by the ‘Town House’ and down the high street past many of the locals who braved the elements to come and look at the parade. The colourful parade was themed with Dochas the Offaly cancer care centre - a truly worthy cause. The togetherness of the BBG group and the colourful nature of the display earned many cheers from the crowd. The children were dressed in t-shirts with the national flag colours of green white and gold, red white and blue while carrying little French flags. The parents and teachers all had green sashes with BBG in white writing across the front with a lovely delicate white shamrock covering the pin. A huge thanks to the three schools and especially the principals, teachers and of course the wonderful school children who were wonderful to turn up when the weather was so cold and kept their lines so that people would see the theme of the flags and the BBG project throughout the walk.

On the official podium the Major of Jaux, Michele Jeannerot, The Vice Major of Jaux, Philippe Deblois, and the Chairperson of the Jaux Jumalege committee, Jean-Chrisophe Augé and Margo Sheil the Chairperson of the BBG Committee took pride of place. The French Ambassador to Ireland’s aide Nathalie Fabert was also a guest on the podium and could view the whole parade from a height. Unsurprisingly, gentle snowflakes descended upon the group when the BBG came to the podium. In a warm gesture of solidarity and friendship the Major and vice Major of Jaux along with JC Auge and Margo Sheil joined the parade and walked the remainder of the course together with the other 6 French delegates.

Following the parade the group assembled in the Tullamore Dew Visitors centre for a warm cup of tea and some lunch. Natalie Fabert, the French Ambassadors aide joined the group for lunch and was expected to leave on the mid afternoon train. However, following a lovely lunch with much fun, Natalie decided to stay with the group and watch the Ireland Vs England rugby match which took place in Ballycommon house.

Meanwhile, some of the ladies of the group took an impromptu trip out to Island Farm Foods, The Island, Ballycumber to feed and cuddle the new born lambs on the organic farm. When the little lambs were full of milk and love, the group visited the organic shop onsite to see the range of produce on the farm from organic lamb and beef, to apple juice, jams, chutneys and chocolates galore! The owner Marguerite Cahill explained about the proximity of the farm to the Clara bog world heritage site and spoke of the indigenous herbs and violets that are unique to the area that the animals graze on which flavours the produce.

The group arrived back into Ballycommon House just as the final whistle was being sounded on the Irish game and with the victory the group raised a glass to the winning team and country. The French rugby match followed and the group relaxed and had food kindly sponsored by Ballycommon House followed by a few celebratory drinks for the evening as the group found out that they had won overall entry in the Tullamore St. Patricks Day parade. Following the match a sing song took off when the band started playing and the French showed that they had been practicing their singing while the Irish dutifully followed suit. One of the highlights was a lovely version of Danny Boy by Molly Sheil which was received with rapturous applause. The French gold star has to go to JC Auge who sang many songs in both English and French. Following a lovely evening, Natalie departed for the train back to Dublin filled with great stories from her trip to Offaly and meeting the BBG and Jaux committees and hearing and witnessing the success of this project first hand.

Sunday, March 18

After an action packed but very enjoyable Patrick;s weekend with our lovely French visitors, Sunday morning we woke up to a blanket of snow. Travelling with care, all our visitors made it to chapel and afterwards enjoyed a full Irish breakfast with their host families who especially enjoyed the black and white pudding. By midday the main roads were clear of snow and he ladies involved in the twinning event went to support the Dochas charity event ‘Buttons and Bows’ in The Court Hotel Tullamore. Meanwhile the rest of the group gathered in Keoghans house in Ballinagar for a very competitive game of ‘Pontoon’ some Irish Coffees while watching the Dublin parade on TV. Needless to say the welcome and craic was warm and friendly and even with broken English and French all could count to 21 in both languages by the end of the game.

That night following dinner with the host families the group met in Neds in Ballinagar to meet the locals. The local people were delighted to meet and chat with our Jaux visitors. In the games room an international game of pool took place and the competitive nature of all and misspent youths of some of the Jaux and BBG committee members paid off.

Monday, March 19

Having enjoyed a leisurely breakfast the French delegation together with the committee members then made their way to visit Glenisk Ltd, Newton, Killeigh, which is the Cleary family business.

Situated beside the farm where their parents raised 14 children, the family has been producing organic yogurt and milks for more than sixteen years. They have a vision of an Organic Ireland, where the future health and wellbeing of all their children is assured. Here they believe that healthy soil creates healthy food to raise healthy children.

Working with 50 remarkable farmers they source quality organic milk for all their products. In fact, they use 90% of the organic milk produced on the island of Ireland.

Having been welcomed warmly by Gerard Cleary, the company's financial director, who gave a presentation on the very interesting history of the business to date, the group were them taken on a tour of the factory. Having donned the required caps, gowns and shoes for hygienic purposes, the group proceeded into the initial area where all the milk comes into vast containers where it is prepared for the many products for all ages. It was amazing to see the firm's extensive portfolio of products.

Organic yogurt, milk, cream and crème fraiche represent 80pc of everything the company produces, with the remainder consisting of goat's milk and goat's yogurt. Apart from its rich and smooth taste, part of what appeals to Glenisk customers is the fact that their yogurts are made with only organic milk and are genuinely free from artificial ingredients or additives.

In addition to learning about their products the group were able to see at first hand all the processes involved in the product production from the initial stage where it comes in as milk to the final stage where the end product is packaged. It truly was a wonderfully enlightening experience for all involved.

Having completed the tour the group made their way back to the Board room where they were invited to sample a range of their yogurts. As they say in the food business, the proof of the pudding is in the eating - and as the group tucked into pots of strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, vanilla and coconut low-fat organic Greek-style yogurt, it was very clear what makes Glenisk the success it has now become.

Having all received complimentary goodie bags the group bade a fond “adieu” to Gerard and his family’s excellent business.

Following on from that, the gentlemen of the group departed to view the Offaly V Kilkenny hurling and the Offaly V Sligo football matches in O’Connor Park Tullamore whilst the ladies were invited to BBG Chairperson’s Margo Sheil’s house for a very welcome cuppa and some goodies. Having relaxed for a little while and enjoyed one or two cuppas and some anecdotes of the past few days events the house came alive with music as both Molly Sheil and Mathilde Deblois, two brilliantly talented young people, gave wonderful renditions of classical pieces of music on the piano. Unsurprisingly many photographs and videos were taken of this truly emotive impromptu experience as the beautiful music filled the house. Margo then bade farewell to the group as she had other commitments for that evening and the following day but agreed that she would meet up with them when she and the BBG committee visited Jaux in June.

The ladies then went onto visit Birr Castle and Gardens which is famed for the beauty of its unusual landscapes. The group explored an impressive plant collection with rare species from around the world, including over forty champion trees of the British Isles. 

The gardens of Birr Castle were alive with many a great assortment of flowering bulbs. The demesne includes formal gardens with old roses, wisteria and the world’s tallest box hedges, some of which are over 300 years old.

Another great feature at Birr Castle is the great telescope which was designed by the Third Earl of Rosse in the early 1840’s. This Reflecting telescope remained the largest in the world for over 70 years with people coming in their hundreds from across Europe and beyond, to observe the stars with Lord Rosse or simply to marvel at this feat of engineering in the middle of Ireland. The Science centre demonstrates how the extraordinary telescope, now magnificently restored, was built in the castle workshops by the people of Birr. Scientific instruments are displayed, alongside interactive models to explain how they were used.

This ‘leviathan’ as it is named, remains in the centre of the Demesne as Ireland’s greatest scientific wonder and represents a masterpiece of human creative genius.

Following a leisurely preamble throughout the Castle Gardens the group then visited the souvenir shop at the entrance to the Gardens and purchased items from the large variety of gifts on display.

The group then headed for home with all visitors going to their host families for an evening meal and for a little wind down time.

The gentlemen on the other hand visited a hostelry in Tullamore following the defeat of Offaly at the Tullamore match. No doubt the playing of the match was critiqued over and over again with a little help from the well renowned pint of “the black stuff”. A fitting end to their day at the match.

Monday evening was the last of this second very successful trip to our wonderful area of north Offaly. The host families had a final supper with their guests and even visited neighbours to say goodbye. Following a short night, sometime after 3am the French guests boarded their taxi back to Dublin airport with full hearts and wonderful memories of a fantastic St. Patricks weekend spent with their new friends in Ballycommon, Ballinagar and Geashill. The group were laden with gifts for their St. Patricks celebration the following weekend 24th March in Jaux where the group would relay their experiences in Ireland.

Planning is now underway for people in the BBG area to have a return visit to Jaux in June 2018.

The Jaux committee have extended an invitation for their summer village festival in June 2018 and we would welcome any individual, family or group from the Ballycommon, Ballinagar and Geashill area who are interested to partake in this invitation to contact the BBG committee.

The BBG Town Twinning committee welcomes interested people becoming future host families to our new friends from Jaux France. If you would like to get involved at some stage in the future, please do not hesitate to let us know.

To see more information check out our Facebook page bbgtowntwinning or call any of the members of the BBG Committee on 087 7825855. The BBG committee members consist of: Gerard Nolan, Mary O’Connor (Ballycommon), Greta Clear (Geashill), Mags Duffy, Denise Keoghan & Margo Sheil (Ballinagar).

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