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Westport Airshow enjoyed by thousands

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DARING An acrobatic wing walk display at the Westport Airshow. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Neill O'Neill

THE weather gods were smiling on Westport for the first ever airshow to be held in Mayo on Sunday, as 12,000 people flocked to the town’s harbour side for a never before seen spectacle of thrilling aerobatics.
The major event, which was organised to mark the town’s 250 year anniversary, went off with aplomb, and already there are calls for the show to make a return.
The Garda sergeant in charge of policing, safety and traffic for the event, Gerry McNally, told The Mayo News from the air traffic control centre on the balcony of the Tower’s Bar and Restaurant on Sunday evening, that while it was impossible to estimate an exact crowd, given the multiple entry points to the display area, the traffic volumes and the level of car parking required, gave an approximation of somewhere between 10,000 people at a minimum and 12,000 at peak in attendance.
People were coming and going all day as live music and the sounds of laughter from the packed funfair filled the air. The aromas from the many outdoor catering vendors and local food businesses meanwhile, also set the scene for an afternoon to remember.
Families arrived early to find their place on the green or in beer gardens, on what luckily, would be the last fine day of the recent spell of warm weather. Clouds lingering over Croagh Patrick looked ominous at one stage not long after the airshow itself commenced at 3pm, but despite spitting a few drops for about two minutes, the rain thankfully held off. The Quay provided a perfect natural arena for the event and the businesses at the harbour reported a record breaking day of sales. While there was some traffic congestion, as is to be expected at such a large scale event, access to and from Westport was relatively smooth, well thought out and without incident, with local people primarily arriving on foot or on shuttle buses.

Onwards and upwards
Airshow Director Se Pardy was delighted at its conclusion, saying for a first time event outside of a major urban centre, the airshow had drawn a huge crowd and put Westport on a national platform in a never before seen way, in showing what can be achieved in the town and how ideal a location it is for an event of the magnitude of an airshow. The airshow featured in national media, and on the RTÉ news a 9pm on Sunday, and Mr Pardy, who has spent months carefully planning the event with a large team, explained that were the Westport Airshow to take place again, with the template in place, and the knowledge they now have after Sunday, they could look at introducing new and other exciting aerial acts.
The airshow performances began with the Irish Parachute Club making a spectacular entrance and were followed up by flying formations, and aerobatic stunts that had spectators dizzy and in awe. The Irish Coast Guard’s Sligo-based rescue helicopter swooped in over the crowd and the Breitling Wing Walkers made two runs during the show, performing handstands on top of the planes, as the crowd watched in disbelief.

‘Overjoyed’
Cllr Christy Hyland, Chairman of the Westport 250 committee, was ‘overjoyed’ with the airshow and the crowds it brought to Westport.
“We are always working hard and working together in Westport to bring the town to the next level, and events like this can continue to help us attract tourism to the region, which is a hugely important sector in terms of local jobs and our local economy,” he said.
Mayo County Council’s Director of Services, Tom Gilligan, had a huge look of relief on his face by 5.30pm on Sunday. The airshow had been his idea and he drove the project on. Mr Gilligan said that as the organisers of the event, they were only hoping that the crowds came and that the show would be enjoyed by all and go well. He need not have worried on Sunday, as Westport experienced a day it will never forget.

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