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Councillors told national park not just about Ballycroy

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OTHER COMMUNITIES INVOLVED Denis Strong, NPWS.

NPWS defend need to omit Ballycroy from national park name

Anton McNulty

A SENIOR official in the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has said the name of the national park has to reflect the view of all communities and not just those of the people of Ballycroy.
Denis Strong, Senior Divisional Manager of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, came before councillors in the Westport/Belmullet Municipal District yesterday (Monday) where he outlined why the name of the park was changed to Wild Nephin National Park.
The decision to omit Ballycroy from the official name of the park caused outrage in the Erris community, with local representatives calling for the decision to be reversed.
The three councillors in the Belmullet end of the municipal district - Paul McNamara, Gerry Coyle and Seán Carey - all called on Mr Strong to reconsider the decision because if it did not, it will result in a fallout between the NPWS and the local community.
Mr Strong told the councillors that he wants to avoid a community split but added that the national park includes a number of other communities and he has to take them all into account.
“The difficulty is that the communities of Bellacorrick and Keenagh and Shramore have to be listened to and we cannot disregard their views. We just cannot listen to one set of voices and disregard the others. There are landowners on the other side of that mountain who have very strong views and thankfully they are not articulating it on Facebook. They are coming to me with them saying, is this national park a reserve of the people of Ballycroy and nobody else? Do we need a Ballycroy address to get a job in the national park? These are the real issues I meet on the ground. We have to listen to those voices,” he said.
Mr Strong said he has worked on the national park for over 30 years and the visitor centre has grown from 3,000 visitors in 2009 when it opened to 28,500 visitors before Covid. It also incorporates the Mayo Dark Skies Park with plans to locate a planetarium at the centre.
Achill councillor Paul McNamara said he fully appreciated all Mr Strong and his staff have done to make the visitor centre a success but felt that omitting the word Ballycroy will not be in its best interests.
“If we change it and leave out Ballycroy, I feel there will be a bigger fallout in the community than if we include Ballycroy as in the Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park. I believe it will solve all problems in my opinion,” he said.

Too ‘wordy’
Mr Strong added that the name Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park was proposed in 2018 but considered too ‘wordy’ by Fáilte Ireland.
“Fáilte Ireland found the name too long winded and from a marketing point of view, it was too wordy. We have to be guided by the expertise that Fáilte Ireland have when it comes to international marketing and they felt it was much to long and wordy,” he said.
Cllr Coyle said having Ballycroy in the official name meant a lot to the people of Ballycroy and the Diaspora and called for it to be retained. He produced a letter from Sile DeValera, the former Government minister to the Ballycroy community, when she confirmed it would be named Ballycroy National Park.
She wrote: “I think you will agree the name reflects the overwhelming preference of the whole community. I am confident it will ensure the national park concept which you have so enthusiastically embraced will become an enduring element of the appeal of the unique area of north West Mayo. I hope it will also endure a sense of ownership and pride among the local community whose goodwill and commitment will play a vital role in the successful management and marketing of the national park.”
Cllr Coyle said her letter showed how much the community were behind the park and asked for a compromise.
Cathaoirleach of the municipal district, Cllr Brendan Mulroy, said he appreciated where Mr Strong was coming from but he did not feel there will be an end to the impasse without the name Ballycroy included. He said that a deputation will go to the Minister to express the concerns of the local community.
Mr Strong said that there was plenty to digest from the meeting and he will forward correspondence to the department.