Behind the News: Chris Shanahan, Clifden businessman

Clifden Bay, in Connemara, is one of seven bathing areas with poor-quality water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. What has gone wrong, and what impact will it have on tourism?

Clifden has had a pollution problem. Overflow from the local waste-water treatment plant has seeped into Clifden Bay, making it unsuitable for bathing – and making it was one of seven bathing places in Ireland to be given a poor water-quality rating by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week.

Chris Shanahan, a local businessman, says the overflow has been caused by the surge in the number of people in the Connemara town each summer.

"The sewage treatment plant was not designed to deal with the quadrupling of the population in Clifden in summertime," says Shanahan, a member of Connemara Chamber of Commerce.

The bay, which is used mainly by Clifden Boat Club and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, was chosen for testing as part of a new EU bathing-water directive that has made water-quality criteria stricter in an effort to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal illnesses from being exposed to bacterial pollution while bathing.


Peter Webster, who wrote the EPA's report on Irish bathing water, says, "The fact that these waters have been designated as poor quality means that the local authorities have to put in place notification for the entire bathing season advising the public against bathing."

Shanahan is hopeful that a new treatment plant under construction in Clifden will deal with the problem. “We’ll see a noticeable improvement later this year. I’ve been told that the water coming out of the new treatment plant will be fit to drink,” he says.

What about the impact on tourism? Shanahan says that nearby beaches such as Dogs Bay, the Coral Strand in Ballyconneely and the tidal beach on Omey Island attract swimmers and water-sports enthusiasts in larger numbers than Clifden Bay does.

“It’s the highlight of the day when the results are announced, but it doesn’t reflect the overall water quality in the area. Visitors to Connemara realise that the bathing water here is clean and beautiful. There are lots of other beaches that are more popular and sheltered,” says Shanahan, who runs a filling station in Clifden.

The EPA report on bathing-water quality found that 94 per cent of identified bathing waters in Ireland met the new EU standards. This accounted for 128 of the 136 swimming places in rivers, lakes and the seas around Ireland.

The other six bathing waters the EPA found to have poor-quality bathing water are Youghal (Front Strand), Co Cork; Ardmore, Co Waterford; Duncannon, Co Wexford; Rush (South Beach), in north Co Dublin; Lilliput, on Lough Ennel, Co Westmeath; and Ballyloughane, in Galway.

The national bathing-water website,, has updates on water quality during the summer season, from June 1st to September 15th. Each designated swimming area also has signs identifying whether the water quality is excellent, good, sufficient or poor.