GLOBAL AUDIENCE Images of Downpatrick Head will be seen across the world on Red Bull TV when the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series takes place here on September 12. Excitement is building locally ahead of the prestigous event. Pic: Inpho/Laszlo Geczo
Big events return as county looks to tourism as long-term game-changer
The battle against Covid-19 is far from over but we know we most definitely have turned a corner when events which attract worldwide attention are being announced to take place on our doorsteps in a few months time.
The Red Bull Cliff-Diving World Series comes to Downpatrick Head near Ballycastle in September and the general consensus is that it will firmly place Mayo’s splendid northern coastline on the map.
The event previously took place at the ancient fort of Dún Aengus on the Aran Islands and this time the majestic totem of Dún Briste will provide the stunning background for the 2021 event.
By some estimates, Downpatrick Head - which was used as a lookout post during The Second World War – attracts as many annual visitors as Croagh Patrick.
Many local campaigners and representatives are of the view that September’s event will further boost the profile of Downpatrick Head as well as the wider region.
The staging of the event in September is credited as being the product of the dedication of groups like Céide Coast Community and Mayo County Council’s tourism section.
Noel Kelly of the local Céide Coast Community group said: “The reaction to last week’s announcement has been amazing. People are delighted that the world is going to see what we always knew was here anyways.”
Kelly maintains that this event will provide a springboard for a wider rejuvenation of Ballycastle and the surrounding area.
“We’re delighted that Red Bull have chosen Downpatrick Head to host the event. It will be a massive boost to our area. The numbers that will see this worldwide are astronomical,” he said.
“Ballycastle has two iconic locations in Downpatrick Head and the Ceide fields but our area requires regeneration to create employment to allow young people the opportunity to live and work here instead of leaving.”
Local elected representative Cllr Jarlath Munnelly says there is ‘huge potential’ to develop the area in the coming years on the back of this event.
“I definitely think it will help the industry not just recover, but it will help the hospitality industry grow,” said the Killala-based councillor.
“There’s a shortage of bed accommodation in north Mayo and there’s probably a need to develop the attractions further. What this event shows is [north Mayo’s] unique and spectacular landscape. Natural environment is actually one of our strengths. Going forward we need to protect that, develop it and use it in a sensitive way. We need to build on the infrastructure like accommodation and places to eat. There’s definitely potential for further development.”
Cllr Munnelly is also keen to credit the goodwill of the local community in facilitating the event, but particularly the Downpatrick Head landowners.
“Downpatrick Head is on privately owned land. There’s been a lot of changes made to that place in the last few years and none of that would’ve taken place without the cooperation of the local landowners,” he said.
“I think visitor numbers to Downpatrick Head last year were the highest ever since they started counting them. I think it’s a really important site and it’s getting much more publicity,” he added.
Economic spill over
Covid restrictions permitting, the cliff-diving event is likely to provide substantial economic spill over for Ballycastle, but also the surrounding areas of Ballina and Belmullet.
North Mayo Tourism manager Anne Marie Flynn says the event will boost the profile of an area that has been slowly growing in popularity.
“I think when Red Bull are picking their locations they do tend to pick locations that are off the beaten track and offer a real surprise. I think Ballycastle really fits the bill because it doesn’t have the prominence that other part of Ireland or coastal areas have. I also think the support they would’ve got at a local level, at the council level and in the community had to be a factor as well in the decision.”
Ms Flynn also reckons the long-term benefit to the area cannot be underestimated.
“It’s giving an international profile, it’s bringing eyes upon us, it’s getting us out into the media, it’s attracting a new demographic of people that might not necessarily considered it as a place to visit,” she said.
“It’s bringing the ‘cool’ factor as well. The kind of demographic that Red Bull targets is that younger age group. That’s really significant to us in terms of bringing people into the area in future.
“Plus, that coverage and footage is going to be up there an online for years and years to come and it’s going to be used again. I think it’s really significant,” she added.
“Being able to host an event like that in a community like Ballycastle really builds confidence in the community as well and it makes them realise what they are capable of doing.
“There’s already amazing work going on in Ballycastle in terms of developing the infrastructure anyway. This can only help it. Watch this space, because in the next four or five years you’re going to be hearing an awful lot more about this part of the country,” she concluded.
All eyes will be firmly fixed on Dún Briste come September.
WHAT THE ORGANISERS SAY …
For their fifth visit to Ireland since 2012, the world’s best cliff divers will find themselves competing from a brand new launchpad on the sheer cliffs of Downpatrick Head. After three stops in the rough waters of Inis Mor, and more recently a showing in Dublin Bay, the World Series heads to the north coast of County Mayo where the Atlantic waters will once again test these talented athletes to their limits.
With two dives directly off the cliff, the 12 men and 12 women will get a chance to really connect to the purity of the place and display their sport in its most natural form, before returning to the platforms for their more difficult diving manoeuvres.
As they prepare to leap from the vertiginous cliffs, the divers will be treated to the most fantastic view of the nearby Dun Briste (Broken Fort) sea stack, a landmark which may well provide them with a valuable reference point as they spin and twist their way aesthetically towards the water.
Downpatrick Head is one of two discovery points on the Wild Atlantic Way in Mayo and hosts the 2014 Spirit of Place, a new installation to commemorate the natural power and richly-layered historical tales of the site. Other notable nearby landmarks include a statue of St Patrick erected in the early 1980s, which replaced a previous one erected in 1912, and the ruins of a church he founded.
While the Staggs of Broadhaven to the west and high stunning cliffs to the east complete the scenery, it will be up to the 24 cliff divers to leave their own mark on the history of this breath-taking spot.