Colonsay to hoast inaugural Rugby Festival

A tiny Scottish island will almost double its population with rugby players at the end of July when it hosts its first ever rugby tournament.

Colonsay, which is 8 miles by 3 miles with a land mass of 15.7 square miles and a population of just under 100, will host the inaugural Colonsay Rugby Festival on July 28.

The island’s Local Development Officer Donald MacNeill explained the idea behind the tournament: “We hope to stimulate closer links with our island neighbours.” MacNeill worked closely with Festival Coordinator Mo Middleton to make the initial arrangements.

An immediate problem facing the organisers was the lack of a rugby pitch on the island. “We had a few places in mind” explained Middleton “but on an island as small as Colonsay most land is in used for farming.”

Eventually a local farmer donated his fields by Machrins Beach on the west coast of the island for the pitch and campsite, and work has begun on creating a suitable playing surface. Middleton is extremely grateful: “Seamus MacNeill has been very generous to let us use his field; this gesture is a great example of the community spirit on the island.”

An example of the do-it-yourself spirit of organisation is that the posts have been made from trees cut down on the island. The festival will feature men’s and women’s 10-a-side tournaments, with teams coming from all over Scotland.

“We thought this would be a great way to get people from all the different islands together for one big social event,” Middleton said, adding “hopefully all the teams will bring lots of family and friends to come and enjoy the weekend.”

Other entertainment is planned for the weekend, including a ceilidh from Glasgow-based Thistle Doo Ceilidh Band on the Saturday night and a cricket match on the Sunday.

Middleton is delighted at the hard work that has gone into the organisation: “Our team has worked really hard to make this happen, so it’s great to see so many teams sign up.

“Everyone has been volunteering their spare time but it has really paid off. We’ve been tending to the pitch since Easter, it’s looking in good condition, and the campsite is ready. We can’t wait to get the other teams here and show them a great time.

“We’re being sponsored the local brewery and supported by other island amenities like the Pantry, bus tour and farmer, to name just a few.”

A friendly match between Islay RFC and the Ochaloch Bears, a team representing Colonsay, was the inspiration behind the tournament. Tim Gabelko, spokesperson for the Ochaloch Bears, said “the weekend in Islay was brilliant, fingers crossed the Colonsay tournament can recreate that atmosphere but on a larger scale.”

Kenneth Carter, Islay rugby spokesperson, said: “It was a pleasure to help out the boys with various aspects of the organisation and will continue to offer our help and support in the future.

“Our team will consist of Ileachs and we will take as many over as our R.I.B.s will allow. And can we take this opportunity to say how fantastically well organised this weekend is- well done to Mo and the lads”

Joining Islay and the Ochaloch’s in the tournament will be Oban Lorne (men’s and women’s teams) Mull men’s, Inverleith men’s and Warthogs women’s from Edinburgh.

Clubs are looking forward to some quality rugby, as well as the socialising: “Oban is looking forward to the Colonsay rugby festival mainly because it’s the first year and also Oban Lorne’s 50th anniversary” stated said Robin MacQueen, club captain of Oban Lorne Rugby Club, adding: “We did well in the Islay Beach rugby, coming runners up in the cup, and hopefully can convert into playing 10s for Colonsay,”

Amanda Byrne, Wathogs spokesperson, expressed the club’s excitement: “It’s great to see such a small rugby community having the ambition to organise a festival like this and they seem to be very well organised and backed by the local community.

“We have an ethos of playing fun rugby and that seems to be what the organisers are trying to promote with this tournament. There are 14 of us coming over to fly the Warthog flag – I hope I manage to get 14 of us back on the ferry on Sunday.”

Organisers hope to use the tournament to raise money and awareness for African rugby charity SKRUM. SKRUM are a charity based in Swaziland which use rugby as a social tool to encourage health awareness and responsible living amongst vulnerable children.

A SKRUM spokesperson said: “Everyone here at SKRUM cannot thank the organising committee of the rugby festival enough for their support for the SKRUM Programme.

Even though Colonsay is six thousand miles away all their efforts will make a huge difference in what we are trying to achieve here in Swaziland.”