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Sun, sea and traffic chaos


EMERGENCY PARKING A field near Roonagh Pier had to be utilised due to the large amount of people parking in the area.

Achill sees biggest number of visitors ‘in living memory’, while island hoppers felt the crush

Áine Ryan

SUN, sea and a surge of staycationers meant Co Mayo was more Mediterranean than Wild Atlantic Way over the weekend. With temperatures soaring to the high 20s and set to continue, families flocked to the beautiful beaches of the county.
After the June Bank Holiday weekend, there were reports from Achill of the local authority’s lack of preparedness. And once again, last weekend saw chaos at some of the county’s best-known beauty spots.
Whilst the two family-run ferry operators for Inishturk and Clare Island broadly welcomed the arrival of so many people wishing to travel to these islands, they are calling on Mayo County Council to address the longtime issue of acquiring more land for a bigger carpark. That issue was compounded over the weekend by limited sanitary facilities and overflowing bins.

No room at Roonagh
Speaking to The Mayo News yesterday, Annmarie O’Malley, of O’Malley Ferries, said that while the visitors were most welcome, the facilities at Roonagh Pier – the gateway to Inishturk and Clare Island – ‘are not fit-for-purpose’.
“We had the busiest weekend of the season and there was such a shortage of car-parking spaces that local farmer Tony Lyons was asked by the Gardaí to open up a field. The situation would have been dangerous otherwise,” she said.
Ms O’Malley highlighted the fact that because the public toilets were still closed due to pandemic restrictions, the hundreds of visitors waiting to catch ferries were reliant on four port-a-loos, with no facilities to wash their hands.
“The loos are not being cleaned or maintained regularly enough, whilst the bins are another problem. We have to ring the council repeatedly to have these facilities attended to,” Ms O’Malley said.   
Speaking also to The Mayo News, Brian O’Grady, whose family also run a busy schedule to the islands, as well as the Sailor’s Bar and Hostel on Clare Island, said: “With such good weather and after the past year of pandemic restrictions, it is understandable that people want to get out to the beaches and islands off the Co Mayo coast.
“Roonagh has been very busy over the last couple of weeks with people on staycation going to Clare Island and Inishturk for day trips and holidays. The carpark at Roonagh has been full for a couple of weeks, which has led people to park along the side of the road, and this has led to traffic not being able to pass.”
Mr O’Grady also thanked Tony Lyons for opening up his field at short notice to cater for all the traffic.  
“There would need to be some parking management or investment by Mayo County Council to increase parking spaces,” he said.

Visitor influx
Meanwhile, across the bay in Achill, there were some 10,000 visitors each day over the weekend.
That is the biggest number seen on the island in living memory, according to Fianna Fáil councillor and local business man Paul McNamara. He said that although Mayo County Council had improved the facilities for visitors since the June Bank Holiday weekend, it urgently needs to deploy more staff to the island’s Blue Flag beaches.
“In all fairness, we have bins and toilet facilities on our beaches now, but I have been calling for extra staff to be deployed during this time for the last six months. Our portaloos need to be cleaned daily, not weekly,” Cllr McNamara said.

Council response
RESPONDING to Mayo News questions yesterday, a county council spokesperson said the local authority could ‘confirm that a number of key actions taken by the council over the busy weekend assisted with the high volume of visitors and residents looking to enjoy the many outdoor amenities on offer across the county’.  
“The council maintained a visible presence at Keel and Keem [on Achill] and interacted with campers and campervans to advise of no overnight camping and our ongoing message to ‘Leave no Trace’,” she said.
She also confirmed that digital road signs were erected in Keel advising of congestion at Keem and a traffic warden visited both Keel and Keem on several occasions over the weekend. Council staff liaised with An Garda Síochána, who made a call to close the road to Keem over the weekend.
“The parking issues at Roonagh this weekend were exceptional, but Mayo County Council will examine potential funding streams for the development of additional car parking at Roonagh. The development of a detailed visitor management plan for Keel and Keem will include visitor traffic management proposals,” the council spokesperson concluded.

Coastguard call
This gorgeous spell of weather has people flooding to beaches and beauty spots, but unfortunately some people are making potentially life-threatening decisions.
All around the country, road access is being blocked leading to emergency service vehicles and life-saving equipment and personnel being late to the scenes of accidents.
Every second counts in an emergency, so don’t block access on any roads, park sensibly. Dial 112 or 999 and ask for the Coast Guard if you see someone in trouble in the sea or by the coast. Play your part and park sensibly.