An ‘eely’ Great Day Out At Antrim Castle Gardens – Guest Blog

Lough Neagh Partnership recently received an Awards for All grant of £10,000 to hold a festival in Antrim Castle Gardens to showcase the eel fishing heritage of Lough Neagh. They used the money to provide equipment including marquees, audio visual equipment, exhibitions, security fencing, food and kitchen equipment or the event.

Eimear Kearney, marketing officer with Lough Neagh Partnership wrote a guest blog about the event.

River to Lough Festival

The hugely popular River to Lough Festival took place at Antrim Castle Gardens on Saturday 2 July 2016. It has become a firm favourite in the family festivals calendar over the past couple of years.

Lough Neagh Eels have been awarded for their heritage, tradition and authenticity and this year’s festival was the grand finale for the inaugural ‘Eel-Eat’ restaurant week which saw over 40 restaurants across Northern Ireland feature Lough Neagh Eel on the menu.  Details at

Organisers at Lough Neagh & Its Waterways took the decision to grow the festival beyond Toome’s eel fishery following last year’s sell out event and they have been overwhelmed by the response from the public to the festival which has gained popularity as one of Northern Ireland’s most unique food festivals.  Visitors came out to support the festival and enjoy the Lough Neagh Eel delicacy despite the torrential rain.

We were delighted to be able to host River to Lough Festival at the sumptuous Antrim Castle Gardens.  It was the perfect location as it’s extremely accessible and is situated right on the river and mouth of Lough Neagh.

The River to Lough Festival programme featured cookery demonstrations in the Food Theatre with Emmett McCourt, Dean Coppard & Martin McCann, a cookery school with Paula McIntyre, a traditional eel supper in the pop-up restaurant by Michael Lennon, Head Chef at the White River Hotel, an eel heritage exhibition and fishermen story-telling, live entertainment, a craft and artisan food market, line demonstrations and a teddy bear’s picnic!

Festival goers were treated to a surprise performance by Wy Mac, daughter of former World Champion Boxer Wayne McCullough, who was in the front row cheering his daughter for her debut performance ‘Worth the Wait’.

River to Lough was supported by Big Lottery Fund and other funders (Tourism NI, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, Food NI, The Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society, The Big Lottery fund, The Enkalon Foundation, Bank of Ireland and DHL).

Without financial assistance from Awards For All, it would not be possible to run this fantastic festival showcasing the cultural heritage of the Lough Neagh fishing industry.  This festival is important for our local fishing community as it gives visitors an understanding and appreciation of the ancient fishing traditions and methods that have been passed down through generations of fishing families on the shores of Lough Neagh.  For many years the eels have been exported across Europe, where they are protected under European law for their unique quality and are considered a delicacy.  It is important to educate the people of Northern Ireland about our local eels, show them how they are caught and cooked and tell them our story.  This festival has begun to change peoples’ mind-set and encouraged them to enjoy our Lough Neagh Eels #EelsAreTasty

Details at

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