Conkers - A cracking festival with many new facets

OPPONENTS will be squaring up and knocking chunks out of one another, playing psychological mind games, getting tangled in a mess and roared on from the crowds. Yet there won’t be a presidential candidate in sight!

OPPONENTS will be squaring up and knocking chunks out of one another, playing psychological mind games, getting tangled in a mess and roared on from the crowds. Yet there won’t be a presidential candidate in sight!

Momentum is building ahead of the Irish Conker Championship Festival in Freshford, a three-day-long programme of family-focused outdoor and indoor events this October Bank Holiday Weekend.

‘Knock Yourself Out’ is the plea from the organisers of this, the 12th annual championships in the village.

The extended Irish Conker Championship Festival programme this year includes ghost trails and cookery demonstrations, comedy, pumpkin carving, basket-making, art and crafts exhibitions and country walks as well as the now renowned Irish Conker Championships which run on the Village Green in Freshford on October 30. Registration begins at 12.30pm and competition kicks off at 1pm.

One of the festival’s organisers, Brenda Cooper, said they’re extending an international welcome this year to disappointed competitors left without a challenge after the recent World Conker Championships in Ashton near Peterborough in the UK had to be cancelled because of bad weather.

“We’ve written to the organisers and are hopeful that some of the would-be World Championships competitors will come over and join in the competition and the fun. Kilkenny is renowned as the festivals capital of Ireland and we’ve become synonymous with great food, the creative arts, comedy, walking tours and of course the conker championships.”

“Because this is one of the final festivals of the year in the county, we’ve extended our programme to include a flavour of everything that makes Kilkenny special. We would also hope that families visiting Kilkenny city for the weekend would make the 20 minute journey to Freshford, on the Sunday in particular, and enjoy the Loop Walk; take in some comedy with comedian Jarlath Regan and join in the Irish Conker Championships which run on the Green from 1pm,” she said.

The Irish Conker Championships is open to competitors of all ages from 8 upwards with competitions judged at under-12, under-14, under-17 and adult levels. Team events also run on the day. Last year’s champion, Peter Theloke, will be there to share tips and skills with novice and long-time competitors and the many who have supported the event over its 12-year history.

There’s also plenty to see and do for those not interested in competing, fellow organiser Grace Kearney explains. “Two marquees on the Green will house a wonderful array of stalls which will sell crafts, home cooking and delicious food. There’s also children’s entertainment, Halloween activities and story-telling. We’re delighted to team up with the Crafts Council of Ireland in this year, the Year of Craft, to house two exhibitions in the Church of Ireland.

“This is a fantastic community festival which has drawn national and international competitors over the years and all proceeds stay within the community and go to Prague House, a home for the elderly here in Freshford,” she explained.

A limited number of places are still available on a basket-weaving programme which runs in Freshford, a week earlier, on this Saturday. The workshop is by basket maker Heike Khale, and all baskets woven will be on display at the exhibition by award-winning basket maker Joe Hogan. This exhibition opens on October 29 and runs right through the festival weekend in the Church of Ireland. The Church’s annex also hosts an art exhibition, which includes an extensive array of paintings and drawings done by local artists.

Saturday’s programme includes a gift-making demonstration at noon in the same building with Helen Dooley and Joanne Brennan entitled ‘Christmas treats: edible delights and Floral Arrangements’. A Halloween cookery adventure for children follows in the Oasis Childcare Centre from 2.30pm.

Eager conker championships competitors can view the selection and preparation of the most suitable conkers in the Green from 3.30pm on Saturday and a spooky, spine-tingling, outdoor Ghost Trail follows from the Oasis centre again from 6.45pm. Participants are advised to dress appropriately.

Sunday’s programme opens with the Loop Walk at 11.30am; it continues with The Conker Comedy Gig with Jarlath Regan at Kavanagh’s Lounge at 1pm and the Irish Conker Championships which begin from 1pm sharp.

Art exhibitions continue throughout the weekend and the judging of the ‘Walking Forest’ Fancy Dress Competition takes place at 3.30pm. The action-packed festival concludes with the crowning of the 2011 Irish Conker Champions at 4.30pm.