Destination of the day: Visit to Mayo Greenway in 2011

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It was a new departure, a new push-start, in Irish tourism when the Greenway opened in Mayo in July 2011.

The Greenway is constructed along the old railway line from Westport to Achill.

It is well-planned and a tribute to the hard work of Pádraig Philbin and all involved.

The Greenway is also a reminder of what a nightmare it is to get anything ambitious going in a land where the tapestry of fields is nothing compared with legal labyrinth that had to be navigated.

The trail involved negotiations with 17 separate landowners, of which three refused permission for the cycleway to pass through their land.

13 June 2006

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13 June 2006

Westport Fisherman in Carrowbeg River westport hosue zorbing westport house children laser war westport house ride 001 Westport House

13 June 2006

13 June 2006

Westport summer nightAs a result we are putting our cycle tourists and home holiday makers on to a narrow two kilometre stretch of road near Newport in the middle of the traffic, which can expand disproportionately in July and August.

It is DANGEROUS, and it is a shock for people from mainland Europe who are used to pleasant cycle trails that never go near a dangerous road. In France, for example, they have 28,000 kilometres of cycle routes.

The community response was exciting as well. Groups were set up by the Gourmet Greenway and Greenway Artists.

Maureen O’Neill is one of the 270 visual artists who live in Mayo. When the Greenway cycle track opened they got together to exhibit at local venues, such as the Mulranny Hotel and the disused school house in Darrada where cyclists come for the facilities.

Darrada rather than Daurada. Now THERE is a slogan for Irish tourism.

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Westport is one of our busiest western towns, so thriving that moving through the traffic in July is a task that requires timing and enough planning to re-enact the Year of the French.

The local hoteliers, restaurateurs and civic spirits are not know for being shy either. Westport was the first town to take on the technology of Google Maps and use it to plant themselves in the digital imagination of the world.

The townspeople wear hospitality on their sleeves. At the Sol Rio, as Mayo as they come but with a smell of Lisbon around the place, you can taste amazing spaghetti lobster, where Sinéad Lambert runs the teeming restaurant, which is spreadeagled across two floors over the Connemara Shop on Bridge Street and deservedly jammed.

Sinéad met Portuguese chef José Barroso in London and came back with her dream and her enthusiasm to a teeming tourist town. It is the sort of story that makes Westport special.

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Matt Molloy goes almost unnoticed in his own pub, where he smiles at the boisterous Dubs pushing him out of the way to go to the toilet.

What he calls the “middle of the road” crowd, with their microphone and guitar are given a room at the back. He calls it the yard, although a roof was put on it years ago, because he doesn’t think it is profitable use of time to think up names for these things.

He sits in the middle room, his own space, where his son is among the musicians who play without benefit of electric socket. He is still the 1970s music lover, whose shy pursuit of musical excellence broadened the horizons of everyone who played Irish music for a generation after.

His name is famous and somebody asked him once to franchise it. Not a chance.

Over in the shadow of Croagh Patrick you can enter another world at Campbells’ bar, to which John Fitzpatrick has returned from Riyadh to tend a bar at the foot of beautiful Croagh Patrick with musicians and pints and laughter all around. Two brothers sing an amazing Raglan Road and Auld Triangle, singing in parts, counterpointing the tuneless Christy Moore wannabes who follow.

Other countries celebrate their art in galleries festooned with old masters, our culture is the songs sung at every crossroads pub, an art gallery of another kind.

To add to the comfort, the Hotel Westport had the most comfortable bed I have slept in for a while.

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If they ever do an Achill from A to Z, it will finish with Zorbing. They put you in a giant bouncy ball and roll you down a grassy hill. It made no sense when I was told about it and it still made no sense when Biddy Hughes persuaded me to get in to one of the balls half filled with water. I tried to run at first, fell and ended up in an aquatic explosion, drowning in the small remaining portion of the water that had not made its way up my nose. It was, on reflection, fun.

Westport House used to have a few llamas and bunch of swan pedalos. Now it has embraced the family market on a scale and ambition that few people here have the courage to do. The rides are not exhaustive, one flume, one sling and a splash machine are nothing more than an ambitious start, but it is great to see someone in Ireland attempting this.

There was more to do of course. Ciaran Collins from Adventure Islands has set up a series of activities at Westport House. We try the laser shoot and the archery. My daughter shoots me dead, as all teenagers sometimes dream.

 

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