The little Co Kerry fishing village of Portmagee, with a population of 200, has been chosen as the winner of Ireland’s first tourism town award.
Portmagee was by far the smallest of the 10 shortlisted towns which included its bigger and better-known neighbour, Killarney, along with the medieval tourist hotspot of Kilkenny and Westport, recently chosen by The Irish Times as Ireland’s best town.
Residents of the village, which is on Kerry’s Iveragh Peninsula south of Valentia Island, seemed surprised by the announcement by Fáilte Ireland at a lunch in Dublin yesterday. The secretary of the village’s Tidy Towns committee, Patricia Kennedy, said they were “totally shocked” to have won as their village was “way in the back of beyonds”.
The village’s big attraction is the set-dancing workshop it hosts every May bank holiday weekend, which attracts thousands.
It has also inaugurated a Portmagee Sea Shanty Festival in September, which remembers its most famous resident, the 18th-century pirate Capt Theobald Magee.
Ms Kennedy, who owns the local Moorings Hotel, said Portmagee was heavily dependent on the fishing trade and had to find other ways of getting more economic activity into the area.
The awards were designed by Fáilte Ireland to promote Irish towns and villages that are working to enhance local tourism. A €10,000 grant goes to the winner. The new award was piloted as part of the national Tidy Towns competition and every entrant had to finish in the top 100 to qualify.
The judging panel said Portmagee had woven its “fishing past and present into its story”. Its restaurants provided a superb service with a “seafood ethic” while its facades were bright and enticing with a great variety of retail, accommodation and food promoters, it said.
The seaside village is linked by bridge to Valentia Island. Boat trips to Skellig Michael and its sister island are one of the mainstays of the local economy. Portmagee is not unused to the limelight. Former Kerry manager Jack O’Connor lives nearby, and it was a holiday haunt for former minister Mary O’Rourke for many years.