Downpatrick Head set for a worldwide audience

Living

TRANSFORMATION Mayo’s iconic landmark Downpatrick Head will be transformed to welcome the world’s best cliff divers this weekend for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. Pic: Inpho

Red Bull Cliff Diving World Championship shining a light on north Mayo

Oisín McGovern

COUNTY Mayo will be at the centre of a major sporting event this weekend (no, not that one!).
The majestic Dún Briste and its surroundings will be beamed around the world by at least 32 television stations when the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Championships arrives to Ballycastle’s shores.
Over the course of next weekend, our county’s iconic northern coastline will be showcased to a global audience as the world’s elite divers gather at ‘The Broken Fort’ to take part in cliff diving’s premier competition.
The event marks the biggest boost for the local area since Downpatrick Head was included as a discovery point along the ever-popular Wild Atlantic Way.
Having previously graced the Aran Islands and Dublin Bay, this occasion will mark the competition’s fifth visit to Ireland since 2012.
Twenty-four competitors (twelve men and twelve women) will gather from as far away as Australia – home of the reigning ten-time female champion Rhiannan Iffland – to test their skills in what can be rightfully described as an ‘extreme sport’.
Descending from heights of 27 metres, competitors reach eye-popping speeds of 87 km/h that would be illegal to attempt on a lot of Mayo roads.
As part of the event, at least one jump must be attempted directly from the cliff, with competitors expect to perform a pike (knees straight with a tight bend at the hips), straight (no bend on the knees or hips) and tuck (body curled up tightly with knees pointing) during their rapid descent.
Dives are then scored by five judges, after which the two lowest scores are discarded, before the sum is multiplied according to difficulty of the dive. The points from all four rounds are then tallied to determines the ranking for that particular stage. The scores are carried forward to subsequent stages to determine the ultimate winner of the coveted King Kahekili trophy.
You only need to watch some YouTube videos of cliff-diving to know that this is not a sport for the faint-hearted.
Indeed, poorly executed dives have been known to result in bruises, abrasions, compression fractures, concussions, and even spinal damage.
North Mayo will host the fourth of six legs in the 2021 series, which most recently stopped at the coast of Bosnia and will conclude with two stops in Italy.
Interestingly, the sport originated in Hawaii over 250 years ago - a rock even larger and more isolated than Dún Briste.
Nowadays, elite cliff diving frequently draws thousands of spectators to glimpse some of the most audacious feats in outdoor sport.
Organisers and athletes insist that wild, unforgiving, rugged environments like Downpatrick Head are where cliff diving is practiced in its most natural form.

A boost for Ballycastle
SPEAKING to The Mayo News back in May shortly after news broke that Ballycastle would host this prestigious event, manager of North Mayo Tourism Anne Marie Flynn was under no illusions as to why Red Bull chose to stage the competition on this wild, rugged, western peninsula.
“[Red Bull] 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 parts of Ireland or coastal areas have,” she said at the time.
Speaking just over a week before the start of the event, Flynn says the importance of the international attention cannot be overstated.
“It’s been a really busy summer across the region, to be honest. It’s the real ‘staycation’ factor, with people wanting to get off the beaten track. It’s been a very positive summer,” she says.
She adds that the clash with the pilgrimage to Croker on September 11 is also unlikely to dampen the significance of the event.
Plans are currently underway to erect a large screen in Ballina that will screen the All-Ireland football final and the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series
“It’s just great to see the community of Ballycastle recognised for all the work they have done to promote the area,” she concludes.

‘A massive buzz’
“Between Red Bull Cliff Diving and the All-Ireland there’s a massive buzz around the place. Everyone is looking forward to both events,” says Noel Kelly, chairman of local development company Céide Coast Community CLG.
Also central to the organising of the competition was Eamon Seoige, Sports Marketing Manager with Red Bull and a friend of Kelly’s for many years.
What began as an idea conceived over pints among two mates in Ballycastle actually set the wheels in motion for this weekend’s event.
Through hard work from the local community, local representatives and Mayo County Council’s tourism department, the event finally got the green light earlier this year.
A few of the divers are even paying a visit to the local school as well as organising a clean up as part of the Clean Cliffs Project.
The co-operation of the Downpatrick Head landowners in facilitating the event has also been noted publicly by local county councillor Jarlath Munnelly, a sentiment echoed by Noel Kelly.
All going well, Kelly reckons that the event, which was hosted on Inis Mór on three occasions, could well return to north Mayo in future, hopefully with greater fanfare and visitor numbers once the worst of the pandemic is behind us.
And what if Mayo win this Saturday?
“Hopefully there’ll be a few of them diving in Mayo jerseys!” he quips.