Westport Tourism Organisation, in their submission on the Draft National Marine Planning Framework early last year, put forward their plans for a 100-berth marina in Westport, with capacity to expand to cater for up to 250 boats in the future. The marina is again identified as a priority in the new draft report prepared by Fáilte Ireland.

Fáilte Ireland identify exciting projects for Clew Bay in draft plan

FÁILTE Ireland has published a draft Clew Bay Destination and Experience Development Plan, which identifies a number of exciting projects to improve the benefits of tourism for communities in the area and visitor experiences.

The draft plan was advertised just over a month ago and has been available for public inspection via the Fáilte Ireland website until January 8, with observations accepted up to that date also.

An extensive document, the plan identifies a number of catalyst projects, including the following:

* Completing the Clew Bay Trail by extending the Great Western Greenway to Roonagh and Keel.

* Deliver the Western Way off-road walking and cycling trail project connecting Newport to Ballycastle.

* Develop the planetarium and observatory for the Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park.

* At Croagh Patrick, improving the visitor experience through addressing path erosion and safety issues, and promoting a deeper understanding of the iconic significance of the Reek and the story of Saint Patrick.

* Secure UNESCO Biosphere designation for the Clew Bay area.

* Develop a regional Granuaile Experience.

* Deliver the Signature Discovery Point project at Keem on Achill Island.

* Develop the interactive Slievemore Heritage Trail.

* Advance the vision for a 100-berth marina at Westport.

Recognising the need for improved development and promotion of the area’s unique features to achieve increased international cut through, Fáilte Ireland has developed the Destination and Experience Development Plan for Clew Bay in consultation with local stakeholders.

The plan provides a clear direction towards strengthening and growing the destination’s market share through the delivery of Hero Experiences that seek to maximise the key strengths of Clew Bay.

Objectives include developing compelling experiences that will make it a ‘must do’ destination and motivate visitors to stay overnight, and extending the length of the season, while protecting the natural heritage and special environmental character of the region and protecting and celebrating its cultural heritage.

Two key market segments have been identified for the Wild Atlantic Way – the Culturally Curious and the Great Escapers. In addition, Clew Bay has the capacity to attract a third – the Social Energisers, particularly with a growing emphasis on activity tourism.

Under the plan's theme of Land, Sea and Sky, it identifies five Hero Experiences - Under Big Skies, Our Fearless Queen (Granuaile), Ribs of Our Land (Famine heritage), Bounteous Bay, and Following Tracks and Trails.

Some of the potential and existing Hero Experience priorities identified include the following.

Under Big Skies: Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park and the Mayo International Dark Sky Park planetarium and observatory, and developing or upgrading trail systems; extending the greenway to Roonagh Pier and Keel; Croagh Patrick - trail repair and redevelopment of visitor centre; strengthening the pilgrimage and monastic theme through trails development to Cong and interpretation at Ballintubber Abbey; development of Mulranny as a walking hub and related attractions, such as the Old Irish Goat Centre; potential to reposition Clew Bay and strengthen its destination identity through the UNESCO Biosphere programme.

Our Fearless Queen: To create a strong Hero Experience, attention will be centred on developing a master plan to interpret and present the story of Granuaile; undertaking remedial conservation, site development and upgrading of interpretation at sites; possibility of building and sailing a full-scale replica of a Granuaile galley; developing a themed discovery trail.

The Ribs of Our Land: A range of sites and experiences can be brought to the fore through this theme, including the Lost Valley, Glen Keen Farm and Doolough Valley, the Deserted Village and Achill Island Mission Colony.

Potential projects include developing the Slievemore Heritage Trail; strengthening the experience relating to the Achill Mission Colony; moving forward with the proposed Achill Monastery restoration project and relocation of Achill Heritage Centre to the monastery site; encouraging initiatives that portray changing landscapes, economies and the loss of families - deepen visitors' appreciation for Clew Bay and ability to ‘read the landscape’.

Bounteous Bay: Creating a stronger sense of critical mass in the arts and craft sector; developing new visitor experiences around the region’s literary talents and traditional cultural arts; strengthening the area’s growing recognition for food; promoting the concept of well-being; raising the significance of adventure tourism and water-based activities - a marina for Westport will strengthen marine-based tourism.

Following Tracks and Trails: Strengthen the trails network and build linkages between trails systems and adjacent sites, attractions and activities; complete the greenway extensions and build on its association with food as the Gourmet Greenway; expand the pilgrimage theme through the development of a 50km pilgrim path from Westport to Cong and work towards facilitating storytelling and promoting the story of monastic Ireland along this trail; develop the cycle/walk Western Way route from Newport to Ballycastle, plus development of the Mulranny Way, equestrian trails and island trails; use trails to access experiences relating to the other key Hero Experience themes, such as a Granuaile Discovery Trail, the Slievemore Heritage Trail, themed food trails and Clew Bay art and craft trail.