When Newcastle West hosted the Ten Knights of Desmond festival

Scottish knights, glamerous grannies and an overworked Garda band – for one week in the summer of ‘78, there wasn’t much going on in Newcastle West that failed to draw a smile.

The Ten Knights of Desmond summer festival has since vanished into local lore, but 35 years ago it was a barmy, entertaining celebration of community pride. With its pageants, dances, parades and exhibitions, the festival took hold of everyone’s attention and refused to let go. Today, it is a place where lost friends and loved ones live forever, mingling with the memories of Mike Murphy quipping about grannies in swimsuits, and Ned O’Dwyer chuckling to himself on the dance floor.

The size, scale and importance of the festival is evident in the fact that the Limerick Leader edition of July 15, 1978 carried a four-page preview supplement. Surrounded by messages of support from antiques merchants, newsagents and hardware shops was a detailed, bit-by-bit breakdown of what would be happening where, and with whom. The list reads like a roll call of almost every hobby and interest under the sky: car trials, a dog show, an ICA craft fair, a barman’s race, Paddy Clancy on stage, multiple appearances by the Garda band, and much more.

As expected, the eponymous ten knights of Desmond competition is billed as the centrepiece of the ten-day festival. In 1978, the contest was given an unusual international flair in the shape of 20-year-old Gerald McEnhill from Ayreshire in Scotland who found himself riding around Newcastle West in full period costume almost by accident.

Gerald, the Leader explains, was touring Ireland on a working holiday and was doing some work for Pat Joe Nash of Dromindeel, “who talked him into joining the Newcastle West ‘Knight’s Brigade’”.

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