The word “friendship” sits high in our thoughts when we muse on the six weeks spent training as Ambassadors – a recurring theme when any of our activities are spoken of. So what can we say about our Celebration event on Tuesday 22 March, the culmination of this training?
After sampling so much of what our wonderful city has to offer over the past six weeks, we had finally come to the end of our programme and quite frankly we all felt incredibly sad! Getting ready to meet up for our “Graduation” somehow felt very bitter sweet…we were going to miss our Ambassador Tuesdays and genuinely miss our new friends who we seemed to view as our little “gang” rather than simply a motley crew of very different people brought together from all walks of life.
We had all arranged to meet at 6.45pm in the Navan Centre at the mystically beautiful Emain Macha, seat of the Ancient Kings of Ireland.
Welcome to the Navan Centre
Once those of us in six inch heels had been carried across the cobbled car park by our very obliging male guests (or had given up and went barefoot), we were very fittingly welcomed at the entrance by flaming torches and Ancient Warriors brandishing spears and demanding to know our business there!
After informing them we were in fact “distinguished” Ambassadors, we were led into the main hall (Warrior Darragh remained unconvinced…he would be keeping a close eye on some of the male guests we had brought along…!)
Our initial sadness and trepidation that this was “the end” was soon banished completely. Once we were all together again, we knew this was only the beginning… the beginning of our new friendships and that of our love affair with the city itself.
Food glorious food!
There were hugs, laughs, much jovial “slagging” and there was food…oh my, was there food! The amazing savouries were provided by the centre’s restaurant itself. Such delicious wraps, gougons, tartlets, wedges, sandwiches….we could go on…and will actually, as we cannot forget the utterly gorgeous homemade nettle scones complete with herbal spread and garlic cloves which one of our party mistook for peanuts and crunched whole….poor, poor Des lol! Then came the yummy dessert course provided by Armagh City Hotel. Just wonderful!
Off to the Auditorium
Continuing our ongoing joke where no one listens to the lovely Lynda Willis, Siofra O’Reilly had to herd us into the auditorium after finding us stuffed and the conversation turning raucous!
Taking our seats we saw the irrepressible Ivan Little was to be our MC for the evening, and he and Councillor Paul Greenfield officially welcomed us to the celebration.
Lynda Willis introduces the programme
Then it was our lovely Lynda’s turn to take the mike and introduce the audience to what we had all been up to over the past six weeks, and assure the council that we did not spend ALL our time and their budget hunting for the perfect scone!
For once, there was hush as Lynda spoke and technical glitches didn’t seem to matter, even when our very own Ciaran McMahon began to crawl around the floor performing his computer wizardry! We were all friends together and it was a celebration of that friendship as much as of our “Graduation”. Lynda spoke about each of the six tours, about the exciting inception of the “Nosh & Knowledge” sessions where experts would tell us about everything from local festivals to summer schools and told how we Ambassadors were now setting social media alight! She explained how we had all been split into groups and called ourselves very odd but inspired Armagh themed monikers! She then handed over to six of the Ambassadors who were to detail the activities of each fascinating tour.
The Six Tours
Our charming “Lilliputian”, Rosaleen Litter spoke first, and perfectly captured the spirit of the affair as she told the audience about our “sheer devilment” when we all got together. She described how we had all gelled from our first meeting and tour of No.5 Vicars Hill and St. Patricks Church of Ireland Cathedral, followed by the Irish and Local Studies Library.
Next, the always energetic Lilly Clifford, one of our “Queens of Navan” took the stand, and with the passion we all have come to share, spoke about our tours at the out of this world Observatory and Planetarium!
Amanda Young from the “Seven Hills” spoke next, telling the audience indepth about our tours of the fascinating Cardinal Tomas O’Fiaich Library and St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral. She also spoke for all of us when she thanked Lynda and Siofra for organising such a wonderfully informative and bonding programme. Were those a few tears in your eyes Amanda? There certainly were quite a few tissues used by all of us that evening…
Our lovely “Armachian” Gail Steed came next and then told us about week four on the programme. She spoke about the Milford House collection, the home of the Penalty Kick, and of course our tour of the wonderful Navan Centre and Fort itself!
Next, another “Armachian”, our newly christened “Glitter Girl” Wanda Johns, took the mic and spoke with incredible eloquence (and no notes whatsoever) about JB Vallely’s stunning artworks in the Palace Demesne. She then went on to tell the audience about the Visitor Information Centre; which some of us “old hands” still insist on calling the Tourist Information Centre. But rightly so, it is not just for tourists. It’s for all of us! Then Wanda told her joy at treading the boards at the Market Place Theatre and the group performance of the Can-Can. Strictly Come Dancing here we come!
Lastly but most definitely not least, our sixth tour was described in wonderful detail by another of our “Queens of Navan” Mary Jo Sheridan. The fascinating Royal Irish Fusiliers Museum and the Armagh County Museum was brought to life as she spoke.
Our very own Bard of Armagh, Des McDermott
Ivan then took to the stage once again to introduce our very own Lilliputian legend, Des McDermott, who regaled us with humorous tales of all our Nosh and Knowledge (and scone scoffing) sessions. Stood in front of a projected image of the fattest cow even us country girls had ever seen, we wondered what was coming next! What did come next had us rolling in the aisles!
After he had told the audience of all the fabulous ongoing festivals and events, he then decided to recite hilarious poem “The Cow”! How he remembered the half of it is amazing, as is how any of it was heard over the noise of us laughing! This poem had first been brought to our attention on one of our Nosh and Knowledge sessions by the Bard of Armagh Festival Organiser John Makem. Fabulous stuff!
Arty in Armagh with the Red Branch Knights
Next to be introduced to the stage were “The Red Branch Knights”, gracing their ancient royal home turf of Emain Macha! Comprising Shona Lockhart Gourley, Shelia Rooney, Fiona Miller and Susan Mercer, they gave a presentation of Armagh’s Public Art Trail, “Angels & Gargoyles”. This wonderfully quirky sculpture “treasure hunt” is a huge favourite and such fun which came across in the equally quirky and fun presentation showing photographs of the eejit presenters copying the sculptures and their little poses!
Siofra’s Thank Yous
As the night wore on, it was then time for Siofra O’Reilly to take centre stage to give some more details about the programme and to thank everyone involved on the programme. She thanked the attraction managers, the Nosh and Knowledge speakers, Sarah Mc Geary and the Armagh City Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council, the rest of the Ambassador management team and all the ‘Key Players’ as she called us -‘the Armagh Ambassadors’. She thanked “our wonderful group of enthusiastic Ambassadors” and said that as ambassadors we are a “great asset to Armagh City”! A sentiment that we hope to live up to!
Talking about the various attraction managers she stumbled over the pronunciation of the word ‘Fusiliers’. We had a hilarious domestic break out on stage as husband Ivan Little laughed at her. He should talk! She deftly turned things round and said “Just because you can’t pronounce the word PHENOMENON!” Referencing his infamous bugbear, it really highlighted the tone of the night…so much good hearted fun and no stuffy formality.
The Ivan Little Show
Laughingly recovering from this little dressing down, Ivan gathered himself and “guests” on the stage sofas to begin what he called his Michael Parkinson set…
Armagh City Hotel’s Norma Foster and Navan Centre’s Ciaran McMahon, took their seats with local city resident (and group photographer extraordinaire!) Caitlin McKeever. They were then interviewed on various topics such as why they applied to become Ambassadors, what their highlights were and what the benefits of this scheme to their work and the area as a whole would be. Their interesting answers all pointed to the positive impact this programme would have not only on the city itself but on their own personal journeys.
Time for our certificates
Councillor Paul Greenfield then mounted the stage again to present certificates to the now fully fledged Ambassadors. We all tripped up in our groups and held our beautifully framed certificates and were temporarily blinded by flashbulbs, all tremendously proud to have been involved in such a scheme.
The Film Premiere
As we all took our seats again, our trusty MC Ivan Little announced that it was time for our very own film premiere…! A short video of all our antics over the six weeks had been put together by the wonderfully talented (and patient!) Mary McKenna from Mary Rose Films. This funny and warm hearted video captured perfectly the spirit of the programme which had been extremely informative and inspiring, but such fun! Click here to watch it.
As the night ended and Ivan closed the formalities, he informed us that our own Malachy O’Neill was inviting us all to continue celebrating in the atmospheric Red Ned’s pub. Tempting for most if it wasn’t a “school night”… but I’m sure there were still plenty of sore heads the next day due to this kind offer!
It really was a wonderful night full of laughter and warmth. We found it very hard to part and there was much hugging and quite a few tears even though we know this is only the beginning of the journey for this motley crew of proud cross community Ambassadors.
Thank you very very much
In conclusion, it simply falls to us to now sound our full appreciation for all the hard work and unfailing enthusiasm of those who were the driving forces behind this amazing initiative. Huge thanks to Sara McGeary from Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council, (try saying that after a few gins at Red Ned’s.) Her inspired idea started it all and we are extremely grateful.
Thank you also to all the attraction managers and event organisers for their enthusiastic support and participation. And Mary McKenna, you have been wonderful, as have you Jane Adrain (poor poor lady having to deal with us lot!)! If we have forgotten anyone please forgive us! So that’s it then…. Wait.
What? We’ve forgotten to thank some people? Oh yes….
To the two ladies who got everyone together and had to put up with us on every tour, we want to say a huge heartfelt thank you. Our very own Siofra O’Reilly and Lynda Willis (moonlighting respectively from SORT Training & Tours and Customer Sense Training & Consultancy) have worked tirelessly and made this scheme such a valuable experience. With others it could have been dry and rather humourless but these two have made every moment joyful, making sure everyone felt involved and valued. Thank you so much ladies, we mean that most sincerely. You have given many of us more than a few weeks’ simple excursions. You have given cross- community friendships, purpose, increased confidence in public speaking and social media and, perhaps most importantly, a new platform to shout about our shared love of Armagh!
Ladies, we salute you!
Thank you so much to Shona Gourley Lockhart and Susan Mercer for writing this fantastic blog. They are two very talented ladies and we hope that they will continue to write about Armagh.
A big thank you to our brilliant photographers too – Conor Greenan, Karen Edgar and Caitlin McKeever.