On Friday, August 7, 1891, there were great celebrations in Enniskillen as Forthill Pleasure Grounds was officially opened by the Countess of Erne.

The gates opened at 1.30pm as crowds gathered to enjoy the 'Grand Fete' which included "an excellent and highly amusing" Punch and Judy Show exhibited by Professor H. Hayward of London.

Later that night, visitors were treated to a "gorgeous display of fireworks" and the grounds were "brilliantly illuminated" with 5,000 fairy lamps and Chinese lanterns, according to an advertisement in The Impartial Reporter in July 1891.

However, the highlight of the opening day were "extraordinary balloon ascents" and "thrilling parachute performances" by one of the "greatest sensations" of the day, world-renowned Aeronaut Stanley Spencer.

On April 18, 2022, as crowds gathered to enjoy the Easter Monday Picnic in the Park, which this year marked the official reopening of Forthill Park following its closure due to restoration works, there was great awe as Stanley Spencer returned to perform another extraordinary ascent in his hot air balloon.

Well, in model form, thanks to a team of great creative minds.

The official reopening festivities, which included music at the Victorian bandstand, hula-hooping and balloon modelling as well as an Easter trail and traditional games and crafts, were organised by Catherine Scott, Development Officer with Fermanagh and Omagh District Council.

Wanting to add to the reopening celebrations by recreating some of the magic of the park's grand opening in 1891, Toni Johnson and Sheila O'Hare, who are used to working together through Creative Liaisons which provided arts projects for children and young people, put their heads together and came up with an ingenious plan inspired by the advertisement featured in this newspaper in July 1891- they were going to bring Stanley back for a balloon ascent up the recently restored Cole's Monument

Speaking to The Impartial Reporter, Toni explained the creative and technical process, along with the various challenges, of making Stanley's spectacular return a reality.

The first obstacle - how were they going to make Stanley fly?

"We looked it all up and it said one helium balloon could lift 6g. So we thought, we can probably do this but everything is going to have to be really, really pared back," said Toni.

"Colin Fawcett at the museum gave us a big roll of special nylon that's tough. So Sheila cut out all the pieces for a 7ft balloon and put them all together. I tie-dyed it then," she added.

Then she started collecting helium balloons.

"I asked various people if they were having parties, could I have their balloons so I got six balloons and I thought, 'oh this is going to be wonderful'," said Toni.

After testing the balloons by tying them to a double page of paper, Toni realised that six helium balloons were not going to work.

"It only lifted the paper just off the floor," she said.

With this in mind, Toni told her daughter Rachael Johnson, who was creating the model of Stanley, that he had to weigh nothing.

Accepting the challenge, Rachael created an almost life-size model of Stanley using a variety of light-weight materials.

"The plan was then to make it all pared back and try again with 10 balloons. We thought, 'this is bound to work' but Colin told us that it wouldn't and that we'd have to use an umbrella.

"So we put it over an umbrella, stood it up in the hall and it looked really good so we thought, 'yes we can do this'," said a determined Toni.

The next thing the team had to work out was how they would get Stanley and his hot air balloon to travel up Cole's Monument.

At this point, Dessie Gamble, a former craft, design and technology teacher who is now focusing on his own creative endeavours, was recruited to the team.

The plan was now to use a pulley system to help Stanley ascend the monument but baring in mind that there was a ledge he had to pass on his way up, Dessie required the use of a long pole to hold the hot air balloon out.

"Colin had a 10ft bamboo pole and Dessie and he then got a pulley and borrowed a reel, put string on the reel and fastened it on with plastic straps," explained Toni.

A few days before the park's official reopening, Catherine brought Dessie to the top of Cole's Monument to see if he thought the plan was viable.

Thankfully, Easter Monday was a beautiful day with very little wind - perfect conditions for a balloon ascent.

At 3pm on the day, Toni and Rachael gathered at the foot of Cole's Monument with Stanley while Dessie stood at the top with the pulley system in place.

With a quiet introduction, Stanley made his ascent as delighted children and adults alike watched on in awe.

"It was great. At one point his hand fell out and it looked like he waved," said Toni with a laugh.

"We got him right up to the top. Everybody clapped, it was lovely, it was really nice.

"It was such a lovely community thing," she told this newspaper.