Realising a vision in Virginia
Director of Virginia Agricultural Show Centre, Barbara Olwill, provided a snapshot in time as to how the building has become integral to the lives of so many groups and societies in the east Cavan town.
She did so as a multi-sports portable wooden flooring system and scoreboard, as well as a new renewable energy ventilation system were unveiled at the weekend.
Ms Olwill told those assembled that, just over a week before, the complex had been “abuzz” with comings and goings. Mid-morning the Ag Show Centre hosted Ukrainian women “speaking rapidly improving English”. There were “many local volunteers” present too, and to the rear of the property members of Virginia Men’s Shed busied themselves with materials in the workshop.
There were others also preparing to welcome those attending the latest East Cavan Eagles National League Basketball game. The attendance would set a record for the Breffni side, which only made its debut in the National League last October. Over 550 cheered on as East Cavan Eagles extended their impressive run of success this season - 12 wins and a single loss.
Before Minister for Social Welfare and Rural and Community Affairs, Heather Humphreys, arrived to officially cut the ribbon, Eagles’ U12 girls were practising drills, while to the side, members of the local bowls team chalked out boundaries to their artificial green.
Post pandemic, the new ventilation system reassures centre users they they’re in "the safest indoor environment possible”.
Together the LEADER funded floor and ventilation system cost around €136,000, not including the significant additional monies raised locally to provide for the scoreboard and other enhancements.
Gratitude was extended to the Local Community Development Committee, Cavan County Council, Breffni Integrated, Pobal, the Department of Rural and Community Development, and the EU and European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development for their support on the project.
Among the others speakers at the launch event were Cavan County Council Director of Service, Brendan Jennings, chair of CCLD’s Cavan LEADER Local Action committee; Cathaoirleach of Cavan County Council, John Paul Feeley; and Katherine Murtagh.
“The centre is privileged to support numerous organisations across the east Cavan region,” said Ms Olwill. “Virginia Show Centre provides an umbrella under which all these groups can operate and flourish. Working together we are stronger.”
Graham Toland, chair of East Cavan Eagles, said the club started out only with boys teams in 2012 but soon expanded to include girls, and is now become the largest rural basketball club in the North-East with 21 teams, 59 coaches, and 350 members.
The “dream” has always been to “go to the National League”, but such lofty ambitions would have been “impossible” without investing in a new court surface.
What they have now converts the centre’s exhibition arena to a modern sports complex utilising the same technology as that applied at New York’s Madison Square Gardens.
“Last year when we played the local league, if we had 100 spectators at a game we’d have been delighted. Last weekend we played here, at home, with 550 people here in the Show Centre. It's a fantastic facility.”
The club still uses the Virginia College sports facilities for practice, but Graham acknowledges that the new dedicated Olympic standard floor has “made a difference” in terms of lifting the club at all levels.
“It's probably one of the best floors in the country. No exaggeration, I’m getting calls from Ballincollig, and Belfast, asking ‘What are you doing there? You’ve such a fantastic facility and a great team’. At the start of the year, if we thought we’d win a few, be competitive in others, we’d be satisfied. But we’re top of the league, and our ceiling is only getting higher.”
Minister Humphreys described what was happening at Virginia Show Centre as “amazing”.
She said the floor project goes to the “heart” of what LEADER funding aims to achieve. “Enhancing and supporting that bottom-up approach, and helping communities like Virginia to realise your vision for your area.”
The Minister further credited the work that is done behind the scenes by the army of volunteers.
This sentiment was shared by council Cathaoirleach, Cllr Feeley, who noted: “Without those volunteers taking on to run events like the Virginia Show, who sit on the Show Centre Committee and manage it on an on-going basis, those who run the myriad of organisations and sports clubs who organise activities here throughout the year, this community would be all the poorer.
“The coming together of people in so many organisations creates the rich fabric that makes up this community. That spirit of volunteerism is very much evident in the quality of the facilities we see before us today. The Show Centre, the Development Association and the Town Team should be extremely proud of their achievements.”