Hope for the summer 2021

Comment & Opinion

ON HIS BIKE RTÉ’s Iarnrod Enda series is highlighting many different areas of the country that will be ideal for staycations later this summer. Pic: Twitter/RTÉ

Iarnród Enda reminds us of our national and international tourism appeal

THERE was something comforting about watching former Taoiseach and Mayo man Enda Kenny cycling along the Great Western Greenway in the second programme of the ongoing RTÉ series, Iarnród Enda. It wasn’t just because of the serendipity of the timing: the lifting of lockdown restrictions allowing us travel within our county. Neither was it simply the stunning scenery he passed through in the first programme when he cycled on  the Waterford Greenway to Dungarvan.
Last night (Monday, April 19), he was due to take a steam train during his exploration of the old West Clare Railway line. It has been projected that it will reopen as a greenway by 2025 and will span a distance of some 115 kilometres.   
We are all aware of our former Taoiseach’s passion for cycling and the outdoors but listening to him chat about the history and stories around old railway lines during these locked-down times is not only a reminder of how we innovate as humans but also of our resilience and adaptability throughout history.
Unsurprisingly, the tragedies of the Achill drownings and the Kirkintilloch disaster were part of his narrative in the second programme when he  explored the prophecies of Brian Rua U’Cearbháin.
The good timing of this travel programme should not be underestimated as Irish people being to plan a second summer of staycations. Moreover, with the ‘all things outdoors’ being our new reality – whether that be dining, leisure, or exercise – showcasing our family-friendly greenways will undoubtedly provide big  dividends for the hospitality industry.
However, whilst a recent Irish Hotels Federation survey showed promising signs for bookings in tourism hotspots nationally, the industry is still in a fragile state due to the collapse in overseas tourists.
It is worth noting that prior to the pandemic, our burgeoning international tourism markets brought 10.9 million visitors in 2019. The total revenue from the sector that year amounted to €9.2 billion whilst supporting some 270,000 jobs, or the equivalent of 11 percent of total employment. Here in west Mayo we know only too well how the multi-layered tourism industry supports our economy. Our many hotels and B&Bs are just the face of an industry that includes so many wonderful initiatives from guided tours of our greenways to sea-kayaking and surfing classes; hill-walking and foraging; music festivals and Irish language courses.
During this last year also, so many of our restaurants and cafés have adapted to the varying level of restrictions when feasible. The owners and managers of these businesses must be acknowledged for their Trojan efforts in continuing to provide takeaway coffees and cakes and all sorts of delicious savoury homemade produce. So many of us now look forward to such treats after our regular walks and cycles, runs and ambles. They have become one of the great positives of the pandemic. In so many ways, coronavirus has made us stop and take stock of the world around us. It has forced us to appreciate the unspoiled beauty of our county.
Indeed, last summer it brought thousands of staycationers to our byways and boreens who would normally be flying to the sunny resorts of southern Europe and beyond.
In this six-part series, Iarnród Enda’s meanderings along our old railway lines – many of which are now repurposed greenways  – is tourism gold and will, undoubtedly, contribute to our attraction as a destination for international tourists as the world reopens over the coming years. In the meantime, let’s all embrace the beauty of our county and country and its many pristine treasures.