Reeling in the Leaders – Aaron Culligan (Cully)
For any of you that don’t know me my name is Aaron Culligan or Cully and I am one of the Junior Assistant Senior Leaders of the Knockadoon Youth Week. Like many I am finding myself having a wee bit of extra time during isolation and thought I’d share my experience of the KYW to date.
The current situation we find ourselves in with regards to camp being cancelled is an all too familiar feeling for some of our leaders. In 2010 camp shut down and left many people devastated. This was due to be my first year on camp and like most I was gutted, especially because all my friends had experienced what Knockadoon had to offer. For years I heard about the stories of Knockadoon and this was finally my chance to get to experience it and it was taken away from me.
Thankfully in 2011 under the stewardship of Leslie Bradley and Liam Cunningham along with a great leader team and support from Fr. David the KYW was formed. I finally got my first experience of camp. Me and the boys were invited down to the work week to help get the camp ready to reopen in the summer. It is still to this day one of my favourite memories of camp. I won’t paint you the picture of what state the camp was in after lying derelict for a year I’ll leave this to your imagination. But I can assure you we had it looking brand new by the time the week was over.
I spent 3 years as a camper in the KYW and there’s nothing more I’d love to get to do them all over again. In late August of 2013 I got the call from a man many people would know as ‘Niggs’ or Niall Cunningham asking me to be a leader in the FYC and a week later his brother Liam asked me to become a KYW leader. A surreal moment for me and my friends getting to embark on this journey together. Fast forward 7 summers and we are still doing it, enjoying every summer even more then the last, knowing that it’s not going to last for ever but we were for sure going to make the most of it when we had it.
Where do we go from here?
Unfortunately, our worst fear was confirmed. Due to the pandemic that is Covid 19 we will not be able to run our programme in the summer. I’m sure it left many people like myself annoyed at the thought of summer without being down in a small camp in the east of Cork where the road meets the sea. I can assure you though that we will be back in 2021 bigger and better than ever.
To show you how much we’ve grown since being established in 2011, here’s a wee snippet from a speech I give the leaders at our reunion in October 2019:
‘The KYW started as a 6 day programme in 2011 bringing together kids from Dundalk and Tallaght. In 2012 we expanded to two weeks and had the introduction of Cork campers. In 2015 we expanded to 3 weeks and we added kids from Newry, Annaclone and Newbridge to the mix. In 2018 we grew to 4 weeks and faced our biggest task yet in trying to fill them.’
Now here we are in 2020, unfortunately, camp was cancelled but it was set to be our largest summer of the KYW yet. We had over 400 kids coming and a leader group of 110 of the most kind-hearted, dedicated and selfless people I have ever met.
They say that the darkest hour comes before the dawn. This is probably the KYWs darkest hour to date, not being able to run our programme in the summer. But I can assure you, our leaders will be working hard over the next 15 months to ensure that KYW 2021 will be the biggest summer of the KYW yet.
It’s also important to remember that for those of you who might not be able to come to camp next summer that you’ve played a massive part in helping us get to where we are now. There’s is no one person or thing that makes the KYW great, rather a collective team effort from campers, Dominicans, the camp manager, the chef, the staff, the community of Ballymacoda and of course our leaders. Without all of you the KYW would never be where it is today.
I hope everyone is keeping well during this remarkable time. One that I hope we never have to experience again.