A DIFFERENT WORLD Then Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister of State Michael Ring mobbed by fans in Mulranny at the official opening of the Greenway in July 2011. How will the Greenway and centres along it that rely on tourism such as Newport, Mulranny and Achill fare in the new, social distancing world? Pic: Michael McLaughlin
Newport, Achill and Louisburgh need tourists to come back to save 2020 season
Had 2020 gone according to plan, the people of Newport should be waking up this morning after enjoyed one hell of a party to celebrate the town’s 300th birthday. A live open air concert headlined by the legendary Irish musician, Sharon Shannon and ably supported by the likes of Frances Black, Mary Coughlan and Mundy was due to take place on Sunday on Newport Quay.
Instead, thanks to the outbreak of covid-19, the concert, like the majority of events which have been planned for Newport throughout 2020, was cancelled and instead of thousands of revellers descending on west Mayo, the town felt like it has for the last ten weeks – a ghost town.
Since the Great Western Greenway opened ten years ago, Newport has been one of the big success stories with new businesses springing up in the town to cater for the hundreds of walkers and cyclists who use the greenway every day.
One such enterprise is Kelly’s Kitchen restaurant run by Shauna Kelly which in April was due to celebrate eight years in business. Instead the restaurant was closed to the public as the town ‘caved in’ to the new reality of life under the shadow of Covid-19.
“St Patrick’s Day was the worst day, I think I cried for the whole day when reality struck,” Shauna told The Mayo News. “We were busy on the Saturday and everyone was in and within two days we were closed. We didn’t have an opportunity to grasp it, it happened all so quick.”
Shauna said that within a short space of time the dynamic of the whole town changed with pubs closed and very little traffic going through the town. Her father, the famous butcher, Seán Kelly, even had to stay away from the butchers as he had to cocoon.
“The town is so quiet and is like a ghost town. We give out so much about parking but there is no problem with parking now. It is so weird, it is like a dream … It is the new normal now.”
Restaurants and cafes are due to reopen on June 29 as part of the Government’s roadmap to the easing of restrictions and Shauna can’t wait to open the doors to the public again. In the last few weeks she has operated a takeaway on Friday and Saturday and believes that people ‘are sick of home and sick of cooking’.
With social distancing she believes she will have to reduce her seating by half to around 20 but would welcome some counsel on how to do that.
“We are hoping for a bit more guidance on how to reopen. It will be a learning curve for everyone. We want people to come in and feel comfortable and safe when they are enjoying their meal.
We have completely closed-in the counter around the till with perspex. It will be a learning curve for everyone.”
Despite the disappointing start to the year, Shauna is confident that Newport will bounce back and they will be able to celebrate the town’s 301 birthday next year.
“Newport is like any other community, we all rally around each other and we will bounce back. We have each other’s backs and when other places open we will be into them and it is all about supporting your own. We are good at that.”
At the end of the Greenway in Achill, local councillor and businessman, Paul McNamara said that the Covid-19 restrictions have had a terrible effect on the local economy with tourism non-existent in 2020. He explained that so many people in the community rely on tourism in the summer and with restrictions on travel likely to be lifted on July 20, he does not see it recovering until 2021.
“All the business can open up but will people have the confidence to move out and travel and go back to how we were? There is no doubt about it, it [Covid-19] will change the landscape forever in some shape or form. How people holiday and go about social outings could all change. We are in unchartered waters and we do not know what the future will hold for a lot of businesses and places like Achill.
“We just hope normality will return, and I am confident that normality will return. For once rural isolation will be totally in our favour and the people who do want to get away, Achill is a place where people will want to come to. It has amazing scenery, walks, beaches and everything is geared for it. I am hoping it will come back to us in Achill in 2021 but how it will come back, I do not know,” he said.
Cllr McNamara added that while he supports social distancing guidelines in the short-term, in the long-term there will have to be a rethink.
“At the moment [social distancing] it is fine, I am all for it until this goes away but it cannot be like that in 2021. If that is the case that we still have two metre social distancing regulation we are not going to have any businesses fit to operate under those operations.
“At the moment we have a Covid payment but there is talk that it may be stopped or changed. It is important that small businesses are supported because if they are not we could have a lot of casualties when we get back to normality.”
Flat out in Louisburgh
Across Clew Bay in Louisburgh, former garda Jimmy Corrigan has been flat out every day delivering food and groceries as part of the Order of Malta and Louisburgh GAA’s community response to the crisis. Louisburgh has so far managed to escape the worst of Covid-19 due to high levels of compliance with the regulations. However, as the weeks go by, Jimmy says he sees an anxiousness among some at having to remain put for so long.
“Since March it has been tough and the toughest part for people is not being able to visit each other. Ten weeks on now people are beginning to get anxious and I believe they will get more anxious than normal. With the weather now so fine it will be difficult to keep them in,” he explained.
As we move into June, Jimmy described the atmosphere around the parish as errie with nobody on the beaches and nobody on the football pitches. One way the community have been able to keep in touch is through Louisburgh Community TV which was set up in response to the pandemic.
Set-up by local man Des Grealis, the project was meant to be just a one-off show but as the lock-down continued so has Louisburgh Community TV, which is now in week eleven. It broadcasts live every Friday for two hours on Facebook and it now has its own You Tube channel with cookery classes, garden tips and music from local musicians.
Des explained that it has reached out to the Diaspora and the Féile Chois Cuain, which was broadcast over the May Bank Holiday, attracted an audience of over 56,000 views.
“It just seems to have got bigger and bigger and the enthusiasm the community has hit it with has been phenomenal. Everyone keeps coming up with more ideas and it has become a great way of keeping our community locally in touch but it has also gone globally on us.
“We had Seamus Keane, a fitness instructor from Louisburgh based in New York do two fitness workshops from his rooftop in New York. We had a grandson of a Louisburgh person playing a mandolin in San Francisco which was simultaneously being watched by Louisburgh expats in New Zealand and Doha. It has been an international type of thing as well and something I never really imagined it would become,” he said.
Des believes that Louisburgh Community TV may be able to survive the post-Covid life but for now he is happy it is bringing neighbours closer together.
“For me the content is great but everyone wants to see faces of the people in their community and see they are doing well when you can’t go and visit them. It makes them feel better.”