How Loop Head won the Best Place to Holiday title
This week Loop Head peninsula, in Co Clare, won the ‘Irish Times’ Best Place to Holiday in Ireland award. Why, and how, did it clinch the title?
The challenge for the region is to attract new overseas visitors and to turn the wave of good PR that has accompanied this week’s award into sustainable profit.
In fact “sustainability” is a sort of motto for Loop Head Tourism. For them it means preserving the environment while selling the experience to visitors.
It’s a bug that Ailish Connolly caught when she moved from Dublin to Kilbaha nine years ago with her husband, the sculptor Seamus Connolly. She got involved in local tourism issues when plans were announced to reopen Loop Head lighthouse.
“There was a proposal to put decking around it and signs up all over the peninsula,” she says. “I was heartbroken, and as we had no local voice on relevant committees I volunteered, and have been volunteering ever since with Loop Head Tourism.”
Bernie Keating, who runs Keating’s Bar in Kilbaha, hopes the renewed energy in tourism can help halt the decline in population locally. “The Loop Head lighthouse and other local initiatives are helping,” he says. “We want to attract more visitors, but we also want to leave the area as it is.”
Despite their achievements, it’s never easy turning an economically struggling district into a great holiday destination. Connolly says she occasionally despairs at the red tape involved in getting local projects off the ground.
“For example, there are three second World War lookout posts on the coast. We want to restore them and estimate it would cost €20,000. The authorities want us to spend €15,000 on an evaluation report. Imagine. We get no funding for our tourist organisation and raise the money from businesses and individuals in the area. Everyone works together, helping out where they can, fundraising and writing cheques for amounts they can barely afford.”
In the award-winning Long Dock restaurant in Carrigaholt sits one of the peninsula’s new entrepreneurs. Thirty-year-old Laura Foley is slightly windswept, having just given a guided walk to a visiting couple. She says she plans to extend her walking tours business, the Long Way Round, by offering walking holidays in the region soon.
Having finished serving lunch, the owners of the Long Dock, Tony Lynch and his wife, Imelda, sit down for a chat over coffee. The talk around the table is of upcoming festivals in the area and the launch next week in Dublin of a new Loop Head food trail. The area’s website needs to be updated, and there are still many media organisations to reach out to.
The celebrations for the Irish Times award took place here the evening before, and everyone resolved that they would be a starting point for something bigger. “People were coming up to me all evening and saying, ‘Well done’,” Murphy says. “I had to keep saying, ‘It’s not me you should be congratulating, it’s yourselves.’ ”