PROUD MOMENT?Pictured at the presentation of the Irish Times Best Place to Go Wild in Ireland award to the area of Erris, are, from left: Peter Hynes, Mayo County Manager; Conor Goodman, Irish Times features editor; Rina Garrett, tourism development officer, Erris Beo; Rosemarie Mangan, tourism officer, Erris Beo; Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Michael Ring.?Pic: Frank Dolan
Erris goes wild over award
Visitor numbers have increased since win announced last summer
WEATHER warnings of high seas and strong winds did not deter the community of the north-west Mayo outpost of Erris from celebrating its Irish Times Best Place to Go Wild in Ireland over the weekend. Hundreds of people gathered in Áisleann Bhéal an Mhuirthead (the civic centre) for an afternoon of ceol agus craic to the backdrop of the traditional and bluegrass riffs of local band Wildlife.
Twenty-two local business people showcased their many tourism initiatives – from the North Mayo Sculpture Trail and Siúlódí Iorrais (a guide to 24 walks) to quirky craft outlet and workshop Lúnasa and bi-lingual outdoor activities centre Uisce.
For Laurence Howard, the award ‘has shone a light on the whole of Erris’. Mr Howard returned home recently from Saudi Arabia, where he worked on a farm with 22,500 cattle. On a stand with his father, also Laurence, he was were promoting their tourism business situated on tiny Claggan Island, which is connected to the mainland by a causeway. It encompasses self-catering accommodation at the renovated Belmullet Coastguard Station and some recently acquired ‘glamping pods’ as well as traditional B&B.
“We’ve all known about the natural beauty of Erris, but it was unknown to the rest of the world. Everyone had heard of Westport, but this brings the visitor one step further. The people of Erris have kept in touch with the true meaning of the ‘Céad Míle Fáilte’ and know that it is all about giving and taking,” he said.
In 2012, The Irish Times named Westport The Best Place to Live in Ireland, while Loop Head, Co Clare, was named the Best Place to Holiday in Ireland in 2013.
For local Sinn Féin Cllr Rose Conway-Walsh, ‘the award puts Erris at the centre of the Wild Atlantic Way’.
“Many people, even people from County Mayo have come to Erris for the first time since the award was announced last summer, are so surprised at the unspoiled beauty. It has brought out a collective pride, which, in turn, has brought out the best in the community,” Cllr Conway-Walsh said.
Geraldine Padden of Iorras Domhnann, a community employment scheme that supplies workers for many of the tourism projects, echoed Ms Conway-Walsh’s view. She said the award had ‘lit a fire in people to come and see the wild, unspoiled and rough beauty of the area’.
Accepting the award from Conor Goodman, Irish Times Features Editor, Rina Garrett, the tourism development officer of Erris Beo, said it had ‘really put Erris on the map’.
“I am delighted to accept this award on behalf of the Erris community from Conor Goodman and The Irish Times team here today. The title means so much to us, and we have already begun to see the benefits with an increase of visitors to our beautiful region,” Rina Garrett said.
Speaking on behalf The Irish Times, Mr Goodman said: “There are always those who want to fill an area with tour buses. But the community are the custodians of the landscape and the environment; they are the people who make visitors either feel at home or feel unwelcome. And it’s very easy to feel welcome here.”
“Erris, may you stay forever wild,” he added.
Best kept secret
MAYO County Council’s chief executive, Peter Hynes said that since the county had won the two Irish Times Best Place awards, ‘Mayo is now officially the best’.
“This is a celebration of one of Ireland’s, if not the world’s, best kept secrets,” he said.
Officiating, Minister for State, Michael Ring said: “I tell them all the time in Dublin that there are other parts of Ireland, and now they are discovering there is a Mayo and an Erris. The Wild Atlantic Way (WWW) is one of the best initiatives that has been put in place, and I can assure you thousands of visitors will come into Erris because of it. We didn’t have to put any infrastructure in place; all we had to do was put up some signage, and now the Wild Atlantic Way will invigorate the whole tourism industry.”
He complimented The Irish Times for establishing the award and expressed his delight that Westport and Erris had been the recipients in the first two years of its existence.