Friends reunited at Dromantine
Thousands of people have attended the Dromantine Summer Camp since it started in 1969. To mark its 50th anniversary, a celebration of reunions, reminiscences and faith is being held this weekend
HALF a century of friendships built on faith will be celebrated on Saturday as the Dromantine Summer Camp marks its 50th anniversary.
'Dromantine at 50' invites anyone who spent their teenage years at the Co Down summer camp to return to the retreat house, set in stunning grounds outside Newry, for a trip down memory lane with their friends and fellow campers.
The first camp was held in 1969 when the Society of African Missions (SMA) opened their doors to a group of 40 boys for a week of sport, music and friendship.
The camp's popularity quickly grew and soon camps were held over four weeks in July, with hundreds of teenagers coming to spend a week of their summer holidays in Dromantine.
In 1998 a separate camp was introduced for girls and is still going strong today.
Along with sport and games, faith was, and remains, an important element of the camps with the young campers attending daily Mass and learning more about missionary work carried out by the SMA Fathers and OLA Sisters throughout Africa and the Middle East.
Having grown up listening to stories of missionary work at Dromantine, in 1998 a group of young people who had attended the camps took part in the SMA Fathers' first lay mission to Zambia.
This group would go on to form what is now Friends of Africa; a registered charity which sends volunteers to take part in missionary work in South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia.
This Saturday's celebration includes an exhibition of photographs and memorabilia from camps held from the 1970s until the present day.
The young people who attend Dromantine each summer do so because they love to catch up with friends and compete against each other in the various different sports, but also because they value the role of faith in their young lives and want to do more to help others in need
Mass will be celebrated at 5pm in the Dromantine chapel, with all eight of the camp chaplains who have served the campers over the years taking part.
That will be followed by a three-course meal, music and dancing, as guests take the opportunity to catch up with each other and revisit the backdrop to their teenage summers.
Fr Fergus Tuohy, current camp chaplain, said he was looking forward to welcoming everyone back to Dromantine.
"This weekend promises to be very special for anyone who ever spent a summer at Dromantine as we come together to mark our 50th anniversary," he said.
"I'm excited to catch up with friends, old and new, as we share memories and stories from the camps over the years."
Tony McCloskey from Claudy in Co Derry, who attended summer camps throughout the 1980s, said he hoped as many people as possible will come along and support the event.
"It's hard to believe summer camps in Dromantine have been going on for half a century and the fact they remain as popular as ever is testament to all of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes," he said.
"The young people who attend Dromantine each summer do so because they love to catch up with friends and compete against each other in the various different sports, but also because they value the role of faith in their young lives and want to do more to help others in need."
Becoming a parent had, said Mr McCloskey, given him a deeper appreciation of just how valuable the camp experience is.
"As a father with my own children now, you recognise how important this is and how much your own life can be enriched through helping others," he said.
"I look forward to celebrating with friends at the reunion and hope the camps continue to flourish for many years to come."