An eagle-eyed Italian has turned a cohort of locals in Loughrea into keen archers – in the heart of their local forest.
Mattia Cestonaro founded Loch Riach Traditional Archery, Galway’s first field archery club affiliated with the Irish Field Archery Federation (IFAF).
After raising almost €800 in public donations, he set up the multi-level course in a forest in Peterswell in the Slieve Aughty Mountains.
In field archery, participants shoot at different targets. The targets can be concentric circles, animal faces on paper, or 3D animal targets at various distances, which may or may not be marked.
There is a main looped course where small groups of archers, usually up to four, roam around, stopping at each station to hit a target.
The Club is a not for profit organization with the main objective of promoting our beloved sport in Ireland.
“This is a sport for everyone, we have children, adults and families shooting together. It’s really fun,” enthuses the native of Vicenza in north-eastern Italy.
“This is an exciting new activity for the local community as well as visitors from other counties and clubs.”
Mattia has created three small bridges to cross the river at various points with pallets on the course, which sits on over 160 acres of forest. There are currently 14 objectives spread over 1.5 km, traversing different types of terrain.
The club teaches a “traditional, instinctive style of shooting.”
“It’s a challenging course with shots of varying trickiness, uphill, downhill, between trees. We tried to use natural backstops as much as possible to make the shots look as natural as possible,” he explains.
“We see our club as a group of friends who share the same passion, we organize many social activities and we encourage members to volunteer in the club’s activities.”
The main course consists entirely of 3D targets.
“We believe there is nothing better than seeing a realistic 3D target in the forest.”
Several of the first courses, held last July, were sold out. The courses in August were completely sold out.
It costs €50 per person for four weekly courses of an hour and a half, with minimum age for participants being eight years old. Archers under the age of 18 must be accompanied by at least one parent attending the course. Club membership for adults costs €60 per year, while children pay €30, which includes Social Club membership.
“There was an overwhelming response to our first beginner courses and an increasingly surprising conversion rate with 100% of course graduates becoming members of the club. That was unbelievable and has already paid back the months of hard work in the forest,” enthuses Mattia.
The club will now focus on ensuring that all new members are adequately supported during their first few months in the archery world.
Mattia did field archery in Italy but took a few years off until he got the chance to reignite his passion here over three years ago.
“I came back to it thanks to my friend Enea, son of the Italian icon Papetto, one of the greatest masters of instinctive shooting, and whose values and philosophy he has been trying to promote and keep alive for over 45 years.
“I try to achieve the same thing with the association, I offer beginner courses where we cover all the basics of field archery and where I try to spread my philosophy of archery, which has the social aspect of this discipline in its core values .
“To put it simply, I love this sport and try to pass my passion on to other people.”
The Italian moved from Italy to Ireland in 2014 to change his lifestyle. After three months in Clifden he moved to Galway and found a supply chain position with Schneider Electric where he continues to work.
In December 2020 he bought a house in Loughrea and moved in with his partner Tatiana.
“It was a big step in our lives and we couldn’t be happier with our choice. We have found a lovely welcoming community, everyone is so nice to us and there is so much to do here: from the lake which is on our doorstep and we walk our dogs daily, to the many sporting activities available at the To be available.”
Mattia plays at Loughrea Rugby Club and recently helped organize a group of 14 Italian teenagers who came to Loughrea from his old club, Rangers Rugby Vicenza. They stayed with host families and trained at Loughrea RFC for a week.
Ireland Reaching Out’s Mike Feerick said he and his wife Eileen regularly get behind their bow and arrows on a Sunday morning after completing a beginner’s course earlier in the summer.
He has praised Mattia’s hard work in turning an area of Slieve Aughties into a recreation center with the support of Coillte.
“It’s interesting that someone has come to live with us and helped us strengthen our community and start a new pastime in the area taking advantage of the wonderful East Galway countryside.”
“It’s a big undertaking for any individual – but he persevered and actually made it.”
Mattia plans to expand the course with new goals and create a larger training area.
“We plan to create nice picnic areas for members to spend time together, with benches and tables and some shelter for the rainy days. We are also planning to host the first official IFAF shooting in 2023, which will see people from other clubs coming over from across Ireland to compete as part of the IFAF annual calendar,” he explains.
“The future that lies ahead is exciting and I am very proud to be able to offer something different to a community that gives so much quality of life to me and my family.”