#cong 18 Report – Three Days of Ideas | Engaging | Connecting | Sharing

Under the theme of ‘Ideas’ CongRegation 2018 the three day ‘mind mesh’ festival this year further expanded to include 7 different events as part of the weekend.

This was the sixth year of the event that witnessed over 100 Irish and international speakers debate, discuss and share their expert insights into the world of ‘Ideas’.

Consisting of 8 separate events over the weekend in 10 different venues the conference featured an evening of talks in Ashford Castle, Adults Physics Workshop, Full Day Unconference, Children’s Smart, Music and Drumming workshops, a learn the Ukulele music workshop, poetry recitals and finishing with foraging walk in Cong wood.

The centre piece of the weekend is the unconference which saw coffee shops, book shop, art gallery, restaurants and shops in Cong Village turned into mini conference centres or ‘huddles’ with attendees debating Ideas from the perspective of artificial intelligence to how to get ideas off the ground.

This year also saw the launch of a problem solving muse for attendees.  Over the course of the event attendees simply entered a problem at www.thypia.com and a creative muse delivered an anonymous personalized response.

Once again, tickets were earned through the submission of a 600 word unique article on the theme of ‘Ideas’ that is posted on the conference website.  In total 97 articles were submitted using a range of mediums (audio, video, written) and format (from poems to quotations).

Ashford Castle and Physics Workshops.

This year the proceedings started with 5 International and Irish speakers sharing their unique insight on the world of ideas.  This was followed by a ‘Semi-Conductor’ workshop in Cong Village.  The full report and video is available here.

Unconference Day

Gathering in Ryans Hotel from 9am on November 24tha split of experienced CongRegation attendees mingled easily with first timers, as tips for the day and how to read the timetable were expressed. After a quick orientation by Eoin Kennedy the 100 attendees broke up into their randomized groups in 8 different locations.  This year included the newly opened Byrne & Butler, the relocated Rare & Recent Bookstore along side Pat Cohans bar & restaurant which remaining open for a longer season.  Ryan’s Hotel, Puddleducks Cafe, Elizabeth Toghers Gallery and Danaghers Hotel completed the list of locations.

Each location was managed by a specially briefed chairperson who guided proceedings.  Each session opened up with an ice breaker, which ranged from life tips, business guidance through to IT tips.  Frequently the ice breaker became the talking point of attendees as they floated between the 4 different sessions.  At each session 3-4 people were invited to speak for 10-15 minutes with moderated Q&A.  Attendees decided where, when and how they presented.

The talks were generally ‘off the cuff’ or a verbal chat through the article the attendee has submitted.  As the time available is short speakers focused on the strongest and most salient points which acted as a catalyst for conversation and connection.  Fueled by free flowing tea/coffee/pastries and lunch, attendees moved after each 1 hour huddle to a new venue with 12 new people until everyone has spoken.

The fourth huddle finished at 4.30pm with the customary photo at Cong Cross and a short thank you address, before retiring to Ryans Hotel for drinks followed by dinner in Pat Cohans and other venues.

Children’s Workshops

The children’s workshops at Congregation started as a way of easing the pressure on parents of attendees but have now grown to be a stand alone event.  Over 36 children attended the ‘Smart Fabric’ and precussion workshops in the Crossroads Community Centre.

Delivered by Shirley Coyle of Common Ground Design, the smart fabric workshop started by allowing children to design their own clothing on cutout models before exploring how to embed sensors into clothing and experimenting with different fabrics from slow vanishing UV light designs.  Mixing motor skills (sewing) with technology (embedded diodes, sensors) the morning session was spent making and experimenting.

Following a lunch from Byrne & Butler and a movie showing the group of children again assembled under the expert tuition of Anthony McNamee of One World Drum for a percussion workshop.  The two hour workshop ended with a 20 minute concert for the parents where the entire group worked in a coordinated drumming master class.

Poetry Open Mike

Following a request from John Davitt, who had published a book of poetry, a stand up session was introduced to this year preceding after the conference dinner in Danaghers.  The session was MCed by Paul O’Mahony who guided the poets through rapid fire recitals by John Davitt, Richard Millwood and Anne Tannam (both whose pieces were written for their fathers) and this years youngest attendee Caoimhe May.  A number of impromtus recitals were also delivered by including Karl Thomas, Gillian Godsil and Celia Keenaghan.  Fears about the reception the poetry session would receive were unwarranted as the audience listened with rapt attention.

Ukulele Workshop

Having delivered a master class on the bodhran and harmonica in previous years, Sean McGrath once again pushed the limits further with a ukulele workshop.  Focusing on the basics Sean has the entire group playing the instrument with minutes and finished up a with group composition.   He also left the group with no just the enthusiasm to play more but a full set of resources to continue the learning journey.

The impact of the deep sharing from the conference, the emotional experience of the poetry sessions and the fun of music playing was evident in the free flowing interaction amongst attendees that continued late in to the night.

Foraging Workshops

One of the things that make CongRegation special is the beauty of the physical surrondings of Cong Village.  A quick trip through the 12 century abbey and across a wide stone bridge, with leaping spawning salmon leads to the Cong Woods which was the location for a foraging walk guided by Alex, a cook in The Lodge Hotel. Over the course of 2 hours under blue skies and sunshine he located edible mushrooms, salad ingredients and natural flavouring in the ancient forest.  With opportunities to sample nature’s bounty he shared how they use the ingredients in the kitchens in the hotel.


As a free event CongRegation relies on sponsors to underwrite the cost of organizing and running the event.  However it is important to have sponsors who buy into the ethos of information sharing balanced with commerce.  This year sponsors have all supported previous years and delivered support beyond financial contributions.  Their ongoing support and engagement is very much appreciated.  I would personally like to thank Mayo.ie (www.Mayo.ie), the Advanced Productivity Skillnet (https://icbe.ie/skillnets/advanced-productivity/) MKC Communications (www.mkc.ie)and Blacknight https://www.blacknight.com.

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