WESTPORT should be basking in sunshine as the tourism haven is feted once again – this time by Retail Excellence Ireland (REI) – as an idyllic place to live and shop. So what if the skies are grey and an Arctic winter looming, after 16,000 surveys in 100 towns, the major new study, ‘100 Best Towns and Cities in Ireland’ named Westport as the best town. This is hot-on-the-heels of The Irish Times Best Place to Live in Ireland award, recently celebrated at a colourful event held at Westport House.
The study, in which interviews were carried out with citizens as well as business owners and stakeholders, aims to reinvigorate towns and cities, with Kilkenny achieving the gong for the highest ranking city.
REI’s Chief Executive, David Fitzsimons, explained that the top locations in the survey all had vibrant shops and restaurants. Like all of the towns, Westport was graded on such criteria as: the range of shops and restaurants, availability and cost of car-parking and crime rates.
“Fundamentally Westport and other towns that did well retained a lot of the retail activity within the town centre. They haven’t granted planning for big out-of-town shopping developments. It is of societal value that town centres be vibrant,” Mr Fitzsimons said.
Westport’s Town Manager, Martin Keating, said the wonderful news affirmed the ‘the fruits of the labours of the Town Council working closely with the people – both the commercial and the residential community’.
“As a town we have always believed in a partnership approach to the development of the town and its services – all aspects of the town working together for its betterment. The significant investment in our leisure amenities, shopping and business promotions, the maintenance, upkeep, attractiveness of the town are all recognised by the survey, as is general safety and crime prevention,” Martin Keating said.
He continued: “Schemes like the rates and pop-up shops initiative are ensuring that Westport has very few vacant premises. The close co-operation between the town and event organisers also ensures that the town always has something to offer all visitors to the area.”
Responding also to the news, Minister for State, Michael Ring said the award was yet ‘another boost to Westport’.
“To follow on with this award, gives a great boost to the town. We had a very good tourist season this year and hopefully we can build on these successes by increasing tourist numbers in the future,” Michael Ring said.
WRITING in a special Sunday Independent supplement about the report, Jerome Reilly observes: “Hats off to Westport, the town with the highest overall ranking (with an approval rating of 85.62 per cent from citizens and 80.93 per cent from stakeholders). County Mayo’s premier tourist location ticks all the right boxes as a place to visit and to shop. It has, in many ways, a head start over its competitors. It’s a gateway to the wonderful ever changing seascape of Clew Bay and the wild Atlantic beyond while the town itself, designed by James Wyatt in 1780 in the Georgian style, is probably the prettiest town in the west …. But the trick is making the best of natural advantages. Retailers have been inventive and forward thinking. Westport has great retailers from food to fashion, whether it is artisan producers of cheese and confectionery to one-off designs in a range of independent boutiques. It also has great pubs and places to eat and a guaranteed warm welcome that is part of Mayo’s charm.”
Meanwhile, Kerry tourist haven Killarney came second while other towns in the top 10 were Ashbourne (Meath), Dungarvan (Waterford), Carrickmacross (Monaghan), Clonakilty (Cork) and Listowel (Kerry).
Three towns in north Dublin also made the top 10 – Swords, Malahide and Skerries - while Kilkenny was the highest ranked city in 11th place.
Dublin and Waterford failed to make it into the top 25, while Limerick was ranked in the bottom 25.
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