What started as a one off event has now become a much loved annual fixture and a fundraiser which has, to date, raised more than €40,000.
Chairman of Kilmeaden Vintage Tractor Club Pat Fitzgerald explained the origins of this success story which began in 2008.
“A few of us, who all have an interest in tractors and old farm equipment, were involved in the Slievenamon Vintage Club but we decided we should start something ourselves in the Kilmeaden area,” he said.
“We said organise a Tractor Run and do it for charity. Cancer affects every family. It has affected all of us somewhere along the line so we can relate to it. We got in touch with the South East Cancer Foundation and said we wanted to organise a Tractor Run and any proceeds would go to them.”
The Kilmeaden Vintage Tractor Club decided to stage the event on the third Sunday in July and have stuck with this date every year since.
“It was unknown territory for us in that initial year. We didn’t know what kind of crowd we would get,” explained Pat.
“But we had over 100 tractors that first year which we didn’t expect. It was phenomenal to get that many and it was a really sunny day.”
Local pub Haughton’s was used as a base to start and end the tractor run.
“That particular year we did a long run off up to Kilmac where we stopped off,” explained Pat.
“We then travelled down towards Carrick and turned into Curraghmore. Lord Waterford came on board and supported us and allowed us to pass through the estate. We stopped in Portlaw and it was then back to Kilmeaden and Haughtons.”
He continued: “That year we raised a figure of €6,259 which we didn’t expect. We had a huge response from the local farming community who came out with their model tractors. We had every kind of vehicle, including tractors dating back to the 1930s. The local farming community and contractors all supported us as well as members of the local community. People who didn’t have any tractors also came along and contributed.”
Local landowner Pat Keane gave the committee the use of his field adjacent to Haughtons which has been used since and, throughout the years, organisers have varied the route for the Tractor Run.
For a number of years, they went to Clonea Power, stopping off in Clancy’s Bar for refreshments and then onto O Donnacha’s Bar in Kilmeaden.
“For the last two years, we have headed towards the coast, up through Kilmurrin and Bonmahon, in through Gardenmorris Estate courtesy of the Queallys who were very helpful to us, and onto Kill Community Centre which was the stopping off point and then back to Haughtons,” explained Pat.
Organisers are changing the route once again this year.
“As it’s our tenth year it’s a big, big year for us so we’re looking at making a few changes,” said Pat.
“We’re going to keep it within parish of Ballyduff and it’s going to be shorter, so we will travel around Kilmeaden, Ballyduff, and Knockaderry Lake. The run will be shorter and we will be back to our base earlier.”
On returning to Haughton’s, John O’ Shea of WLR FM will provide music and it’s hoped to have old time threshing and Mayfield Birds of Prey on site as well, of course, as the popular barbeque.
The Tractor Run has had a lot of support from other vintage clubs within Waterford and also South Kilkenny.
“The big success has been the voluntary support we get,” said Pat.
“We have a whole team of volunteers, from those who organise the run to those who are on duty the junctions when the run is taking place, people who collect money and do the registration, those who do the food at our stopping off point and those who help with our barbeque. It’s a huge team effort. There is a lot of logistics involved and the Gardaí have been very good to us. We also get a lot of sponsorship from businesses for which we are very grateful.”
Ann Marie Power of the Solas Centre paid tribute to all of the organisers of the tractor run.
“We are 100 per cent community funded and rely on the support we get from the community in terms of funding and also awareness,” she said.
“To have the lads on board for 10 years is absolutely amazing. We’re all after getting to know each other so well as our volunteers go out on the day. A lot of our crew are from the city and they love going off out to the county and going off for a spin on a tractor. It’s a fantastic atmosphere and is one of the most enjoyable days of the year.”
She continued: “In terms of the fundraising and awareness of the Solas Centre, the organisers are amazing. There is a lot of branding on the day so everyone knows who we are. The Tractor Run has raised €43,000 over the past nine years and it’s a great example of a community event. So much credit is due to the committee and it’s a whole team effort that makes it such a success. They are such an amazing team and the fact that they are celebrating ten years is a huge testament to them all and we are so grateful for their support. €43,000 is a huge sum of money and makes such a difference to us. It helps sustain our services and also allows us to expand. Without the support of the likes of the Tractor Run crew we couldn’t develop our services. Their support means we can look towards what we can do to further engage with people and spread awareness.”
Last September, the Solas Centre opened a new service in West Waterford based at the Alternative Health Clinic at 12 Main Street, Dungarvan.
Ann Marie says the feedback has been very positive in West Waterford.
“It’s going really, really well,” she said.
“Over the years we always had support from people in the west so it’s fantastic for us to give something back.”
Since opening in 2011, the Solas Centre has supported 3,000 people within that time frame.
Ann Marie highlighted the many services which the Solas Centre offers and the ease of access.
“It’s so easy to engage with us,” she said.
“A lot of people think you might need a doctor’s referral letter but you don’t. You can just pop into the centre or pick up the phone and give us a call. Some people also think that our services are just for the person that’s directly affected by cancer, but that’s not the case. A cancer diagnosis can be so hard on the family members and friends as well and they also need support. All our services are free, but unfortunately a lot of people think they can’t come out because they’re not sick. Sometimes those people need the support even more than the person that’s directly affected as they need to stay strong and have the power to help and support their loved one.”
She says many people who have experienced the services of the Solas Centre are keen to give something back in whatever way they can.
“They always want to give back whether it’s by participating in an event, organising an event etc. People don’t forget. They always remember the support they have received,” she said.
A huge variety of fundraisers are staged every year, including the popular Run for Life which is now in its ninth year.
The Run for Life was initially launched to help build the Solas Centre but has continued to be staged and has proved to be a hugely popular annual event in Waterford which attracts participants from near and far.
“We have this amazing facility that was built with the support of the public,” said Ann Marie.
“The onus is on us now to ensure that it is sustained and that we can meet the needs of those using the centre.”
They do this by organising many different events in addition to the Run for Life.
Last weekend, they staged the innovative Film for Life which involved volunteers re-enacting scenes from famous movies.
Directed by Andrew Holden, the finished products were broadcast at a fun and glitzy event at the WIT Arena on Saturday night.
“The majority of participants had never stood on stage or in front of camera before,” said Ann Marie.
Other events organised by the Solas Centre include the popular Dance for Life which was staged at the Theatre Royal recently.
“It costs in the region of €40,000 to €45,000 to run our services each year,” said Ann Marie.
“We’re very lucky we have our flagship Run for Life event but we are constantly thinking ahead and trying to think outside the box. The onus is on us to ensure the funds come in so we can continue to develop our services.”
Pat Fitzgerald said all the Tractor Run team are very impressed by the services which continue to be provided by the Solas Centre.
“When we came in to do the launch, Ann Marie brought us around the centre and gave us a tour of the premises. I was blown away by all of the services offered and how well the place is kept. It’s fantastic and it was a real reminder to us of what goes on and how important the services are,” he said.
Ann Marie says that all members of the public are welcome to come in and look around and see the services which are provided at the Solas Centre.
The vast array of services on offer includes art classes, a bereavement group, chiropody, counselling, massage, men’s group, reflexology, reiki, women’s support group and yoga.
“We have developed our services a lot over the last few years,” explained Ann Marie.
“One new service is music therapy. Some people might not feel comfortable going into a room to talk or might not like the art therapy, but everyone can relate to music especially teenagers. We have a client services development group and we’re constantly looking for new ideas. It’s up to our clients as to what way the centre develops. We have to look at their needs. The demand for our services is gauged by the people who walk through the doors.”
The Solas Centre is governed by a voluntary board of directors, including Chairman Dr Brian Creedon, Palliative Consultant, and oncology consultant Dr Paula Calvert.
“We have three part-time staff and one full-time staff member. We’re very lucky to have over 100 volunteers and we would not be able to provide the services we do without those volunteers,” said Ann Marie.
“When you come into Solas Centre you’ll see we have a volunteer at our front desk, in the front office, in hospitality, and we volunteers on our Run for Life committee etc. Our volunteers are key to our success. But even though our services are free, they are not free to provide so that’s where the costs come in.”
The Solas Centre is the nominated charity for this year’s Sean Kelly Tour of Waterford which takes place in August, something which Ann Marie says will provide a “huge boost”.
She says that all at the Solas Centre are looking forward to the 10th Kilmeaden Tractor Run and she is encouraging everyone to come along and enjoy a fun filled family day out.
Importantly, the event is not just a vintage Tractor Run so organisers would love to see new tractors take part as well as older tractors.
And everyone is welcome to enjoy the get together at Haughtons following the Tractor Run.
For more information on the Kilmeaden Vintage Tractor Club’s annual Tractor Run, contact Pat Fitzgerald on 087-2216589. For more information on the Solas Centre visit www.solascentre.ie, call 051 304 604 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Solas Centre, Williamstown, Waterford is open Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm, with late opening on Wednesday from 5pm – 9pm. Their West Waterford service in Dungarvan operates on Mondays from 9am – 5pm.