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Marina at Westport harbour key to tourism future – WTO


Áine Ryan

THE development of a marina at Westport Quay, the gateway to spectacular Clew Bay, is a key priority in a submission made by Westport Tourism Organisation (WTO) to the first Draft National Marine Planning Framework. (DNMPF).
An ambitious framework with very broad parameters, this proposed plan for our coastal districts encompasses a broad range of marine activities ‘including aquaculture, offshore renewable energy, sea fisheries and tourism’ while aiming to provide ‘a long-term framework for effective management of marine activities and more sustainable use of our marine resources’.
Noting that Clew Bay is ‘one of the greatest maritime assets around the entire coast of Ireland’, WTO argues that it has become ‘a vastly underused natural asset in recent times’.
The submission proposes that Westport is ‘the perfect link in the chain’ to connect ‘a necklace of marinas’ and small craft harbours along the west coast.
“It could offer safe harbour to cruising, sailing, fishing, research vessels. Repairs and maintenance could be available and the town offers a strong commercial presence where provisions could be easily topped up and a few days leisure enjoyed in the cultural venues, restaurants and pubs,” the submission states.
It suggests that with the bay’s many small and busy harbours from Achill to Roonagh, Westport could become a hub for the plethora of leisure and commercial activities with the establishment of a Boating and Angling Centre and all the ancillary activities and enterprises that would generate.                                                                                                                                        The extension of the Great Western Greenway to Roonagh, the primary harbour linking Inishturk and Clare Island to the mainland, further confirms the potential of the natural connectedness to the so-called Blue Way.
“If Clew Bay were to be considered almost as an inland lake and developed as one entity, maybe it could have even a fraction of the success that Lake Windermere in England has with 10,000 registered boats.”
The submission continues: “Fáilte Ireland has designated Westport as a National Centre for Adventure Activity. Also Mayo County Council is working hard to make Mayo the Adventure Capital of Ireland so the development of water-based recreational activities  like sea-kayaking, kite-surfing etc supports that ambition.”
WTO calls on the local authority, along with the relevant government departments to establish a representative body of all the key stakeholders to progress this important tourism resource.  
The proposal outlines the creation of a lagoon on the southside of Roman Island with moorings for up to 100 boats, with an option to expand.  

Rich maritime history
WTO contextualises the huge potential of a marina at Westport Quay by outlining the rich maritime history of the harbour.
From its strategic use and development by the famous 16th century pirate queen, Grace O’Malley, one of whose castles provided the foundation stones for Westport House, to the establishment of the linen industry in the town by the first Earl of Altamont, John Browne, this harbour thrived right up to the 20th century. Significantly, it proved a life-saver during the Great Famine of the 1840s when George Browne of Westport House, George Henry Moore, of Moore Hall and the Lynch Blosse  family of Partry brought a ship of food to the harbour for their starving  tenantry.
The development of a rail link to the harbour in 1875 and its transformation into a Greenway in the early 2000s is also mentioned in the submission.

Clew Bay Heritage Centre
WTO also argues that the Clew Bay Heritage Centre, a repository for the town’s history, must ‘be funded to a much greater extent so that it can research the harbour’s history and share it with the town’s inhabitants and visitors’.
WTO made its submission to the Draft National Marine Planning Framework after the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government engaged in a public consultation process which closed on April 30 last.   
Fáilte Ireland considers international marine tourism a largely untapped resource with huge potential.