Washington DC has been left with a lasting impression of Ulster Rugby after two of the province’s staff members, Michael Black and Barry Willis, had a very successful trip to the Smithsonian Folklife festival.
Situated on the National Mall between Capitol Hill and the Washington monument, the Smithsonian Folklife festival occurs during the height of the US tourist season and is the largest cultural event in the US capital’s calendar.
Ulster Rugby Regional Development Officer Michael Black and Youth Development Manager Barry Willis flew out to the US to represent rugby in Ulster as part of Northern Ireland’s participation in the prestigious two-week festival.
Over one million visitors throughout the event meant that Barry and Michael had a very busy time in the blistering heat of the US capital where they explained the growth of rugby in Ulster and the effect this has had on the wider community.
The Community Rugby Programme and the success that it has had on the increased participation of ‘non traditional’ rugby playing schools, the growth of ladies rugby, the significance and popularity of the school and club game and how important this is for sustaining the professional end of the game were just some of the topics of interest throughout the event.
A kicking competition and a rugby demonstration with American rugby club Severn River also took place during the festival, which proved very popular, attracting a large crowd of spectators.
Commenting on the event, Michael Black said: “We were delighted to take part in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. It was a great opportunity to engage with a huge audience and explain how rugby has progressed over the past number of years and the impact this has had throughout the province. There is a lot of work being done at both the professional and domestic end of the game in the local community, and it was fantastic to showcase that wide variety of projects.”
Over 120 participants from Northern Ireland travelled to Washington to help explain, demonstrate and celebrate Northern Ireland, to counter the out-dated stereotypes and celebrate the creativity, diversity and learning that symbolize Northern Ireland today. As well as rugby, the GAA, IFA and Childrens Sports took part in the festival, plus a wide range of other cultural features.