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Céide Coast communities pull together

An Cailín Rua

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last while working with a group from The Céide Coast, one of three communities nominated this year by Mayo County Council to represent the county in the annual IPB Pride of Place competition, in association with co-operation Ireland.  
Following the outstanding 2017 successes of neighbouring Attymass and Enniscrone, the opportunity to represent Mayo in the new Community Tourism category was timely and welcome. I’m penning this column on Thursday afternoon (many hours after my deadline, naturally) and we’ve just sent the judges on their way after our presentation and showcase. It must be said, the levels of pride are very high indeed.
The Pride of Place competition acknowledges the work done every day by communities across the island of Ireland. It is based on communities demonstrating to the judges their pride of place via presentations, exhibitions of community activities and culture and a tour highlighting the aspects of which they are particularly proud. It is also important that the community demonstrates real partnership with their local council and shows inclusiveness across the community.
The Céide Coast has always existed in its physical form – for over 6,000 years, in fact – but the deliberate collaboration between the coastal communities of Killala, Ballycastle and Belderrig for tourism purposes is a relatively recent development.
It has been borne out of necessity; this peripheral region has faced down the devastation of the economic crash with steely determination and is now determined to re-invigorate its communities. Once, foreign direct investment was the answer. That would still not be rejected. But tourism, and the emergence of the Wild Atlantic Way has presented a new opportunity.
It has also highlighted the reality that neither Killala, nor Ballycastle nor Belderrig could do it alone. Communities evolve, and the emergence of the Céide Coast community as a budding collaborative, collective community tourism entity is brimming with promise.
For Westport-based readers, this may seem alien. But the Céide Coast is not a traditional tourism destination; we are only emerging, finding our feet, making our presence known. That, however, leaves us with a distinct advantage; we get to learn from others, and decide for ourselves just what kind of tourism we want here. And we are unanimous in our belief that it must work for our communities.
Tourism hotspots like the Cliffs of Moher may look like honeypots, but in reality, the local community bears the cost of maintenance and endures traffic congestion while coaches flood in and out and tour agencies based in the capital make the money. Local businesses benefit far less than the imposition is worth.
Not for the Céide Coast fleets of giant buses clogging up our roads; but rather smaller groups who are willing to spend time in the community and get under the skin of what we are all about. Slow tourism, if you will.
We are also learning – and learning well – from the incredible hard work done by many over many years in towns like Westport, people who have been generous in sharing their knowledge. It is not begrudgery to acknowledge the lack of parity of investment across the county; but as in Westport, progress must be community-driven. Communities like the Céide Coast must come together to identify objectives and projects for which to seek funding and support. Private enterprise also needs to invest locally. And as the economic climate improves, more opportunities will emerge.
The richness of what we have here and what our judges saw today never fails to amaze me. Layers upon layers of history, engrained within our breathtaking landscape. A rare authenticity. Arts. Culture. Food. A myriad of activities and pursuits for visitors. The people – the real jewel in our crown. And the very best of the Wild Atlantic on our doorsteps.
It’s been unanimously agreed in the WhatsApp group that Pride of Place is not about winning awards, or putting plaques on walls. By far the most valuable win has been the solidifying of our self-belief throughout this process, the reinvigoration of existing partnerships, the renewed sense of purpose and determination to build on the work we have already done – with solid outcomes that will benefit the next generation. And that’s where pride can really deliver.