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Lilies on the Lough ready for Maritime Festival debut

15 July 2022
When the Lilies on the Lough make their Foyle Maritime Festival debut next week, it won't be a first appearance for one member.
As the Clipper Round the World Race boats float on the Quay's pontoon, local woman and one of the group's founders, Shauna O'Neill, will think back to ten years ago. In 2012, she was awarded a bursary to take part in the Clipper 2011-12 Race and knows just what it's like to be on board for a leg of that famous journey.
And now Shauna will be joined by her Lilies of the Lough all-female sailing group at this year's festival, which takes place from July 20th to 24th. T​he Lilies and their boat, Moana Voyager, will be taking Eithne the Explorer up and down the River Foyle between 1pm and 2.30pm daily during the festival as she explores the river and looks to see what does lie beneath, with lots of fun and laughter for everyone close by. Sailing between the pontoon and Peace Bridge, it's a unique and new animation for the festival this time around and promises to bring a bit of fun and frolics to the Foyle!
Ten years ago, Shauna travelled to Rio de Janeiro as a young woman still trying to hone her own sailing skills and added her name onto the list of local Clipper race participants. They were memories that will last a lifetime and an experience that only increased Shauna's love for sailing.
"Ten years on from my own experience it's brilliant to see the Clipper back and to see it from a different perspective. When I took part myself, I had never really sailed before. I was delighted to get the opportunity through the bursary with Derry City Council for the City of Culture year, and it was the experience of a lifetime," she explained. "I had never been involved with sailing – it wasn't something that any of my family and friends had been part of – so it was something different. During my time with Clipper, I had four weeks of training then I got to take part in the Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town leg.
"What was also special for me was that due to some members being seasick, I was able to get onboard for the final stretch into Derry which was incredible. I knew I'd feel like I was missing out watching them coming in so being able to experience that and the Parade of Sail and the race finish, it was just lovely."
Another member of the Lillies of the Lough group is Rita Heaney. When lockdown hit the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, they decided it was the perfect time to set up the all-female team - to get outdoors and to safely enjoy the company of others with the same passion.
"I had never sailed before either and I suppose I had a bit of a preconception that sailing is just for rich people with boats! Last May I met Shauna, who I already knew, but not from sailing, and it just formed really naturally from there. We're all different personalities but we just all clicked so well," Rita said. "Now, to think that we are all going be part of the Foyle Maritime Festival, it's amazing. I never dreamed of being anywhere near a boat never mind being part of an event like this. The people of Derry are so welcoming so it's going to be something very special to be a part of and the atmosphere is always really positive."
And now the ladies are looking forward with excitement and anticipation to being part of one of the biggest weeks in the annual events calendar – taking to the water in front of thousands. It will be another milestone and another memory for Shauna and the Lilies on the Lough, and something they are counting down the days for.
"It was an honour for us to be asked. We're just so excited about it – I'm getting butterflies just thinking about it," smiled Shauna. "Especially after what we have all gone through with the COVID-19 pandemic, now having the opportunities to be outdoors in a great environment and being part of what is a unique and incredible festival – we just can't wait."
This is just another event in the list of exciting plans for the Lillies on the Lough and Rita said they are always on the lookout for new, enthusiastic sailors to join in.
"After this event, we will be taking part in a sail around Ireland to help raise funds to build a well in Ethiopia. Anyone that wants to keep track of our journey can follow us on our social media accounts.
Rita added: "We'd also be delighted to see more people joining the Lillies of the Lough. You can contact ourselves or call down to the Lough Swilly Yacht Club. Everyone at the marina is so welcoming and kind and it doesn't matter if you're with a group or on your own – we'll bring you in with open arms."
The Foyle Maritime Festival is being delivered by Derry City and Strabane District Council with support from the Tourism NI, Foyle Port, the Loughs Agency and Diageo, running from July 20 -24.
To view the full programme, visit foylemaritimefestival.com
For more information and to support the fundraising for the Lillies on the Lough's sail around Ireland, visit https://bit.ly/3avOElT and you can also follow the group on Instagram @liliesonthelough