Summer tourism season could be saved for popular Mayo town Westport by staycations

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THE summer tourism season could be saved for popular Irish town Westport by staycations, says a Mayo publican.

Westport man Shane Keogh, who runs The Helm pub with his dad Vinny, has been taking groups of people out on a charter boat each day for sightseeing and fishing.

And he thinks that travel restrictions are making Irish people appreciate the beauty that lies on their doorstep.

Shane told the Irish Mirror: “It has been something good that came out of the lockdown.

“We’re taking out groups of six on the boat. And the weather has been so good in Ireland over the last few weeks.

“Some people living here would have been on boats in Spain but never in Ireland.”

Colin Brennan (Irish Mirror) with Father & son team Vinny (Centre) & Shane Keogh that own & operate The helm bar restaurant & apartments in Westport Mayo

It was very tough for father and son to close their doors on March 15 ahead of their most lucrative time of the year.

“We were about to have one of our biggest ever seasons. We do a huge amount of golf tours, we put about 3,000 golfers through here a year.

“We had to let 40 staff go but hopefully we’ll have them all back in the next few weeks.

“It’s not fully clear yet, what we’ll have to do in terms of re-opening the restaurant and pub.

“If restrictions aren’t eased off, some of the smaller pubs mightn’t be able to open at all this year, some people have been very worried.”

But whereas many Irish people might have jetted off to Spain and Portugal for their golf trips, Shane is hopeful that they will flock to the west now.

“We’re hoping that because people mightn’t travel abroad for golf that we could really boost that side of the business with such fantastic golf courses around the west.”

Colin Brennan (Irish Mirror) on the Helm bar’s boat in Clew Bay, Westport, Co Mayo

His father Vinny added: “People didn’t realise what was on their doorstep.

“Families are coming and seeing what is there.

“The boat is going well too. One woman said to me it was the first time her three kids didn’t look at their phones for a few hours.”

I was delighted to take a trip out in the sea on the boat and would recommend it.

Big companies including botox maker Allergan and outdoor wear giant Portwest are based in Westport but the town is heavily reliant on tourism.

About 1,000 people in the Westport area of the over 6,000 population are employed by the tourism industry.

But the lockdown now being relaxed and more travel permitted will boost chances of making up for lost ground.

Colin Brennan (Irish Mirror Editor Online) with Susan Timothy and Andrew McGinley of cafe “This must be the place” in Westport, Mayo

And what was a ghost town in March, has been much more like its normal self in recent days with Bridge Street alive with people once again.

Andrew McGinley, 25, and his girlfriend Susan Timothy, 30, have run a cafe in the town for the last two years.

Cafe This Must Be The Place shut when the lockdown started but they re-opened in mid-May with a takeaway service for coffee, tea and tasty food.

Castlebar native Susan said: “We feel that the summer will be saved.

“There is a feeling of optimism around Westport.”

Andrew, from Milltown in Co Galway, says the couple are very grateful to the local people.

He said: “The support from the local people has really helped.

“We’ve seen a lot of new faces around in terms of young people that may have been in college or working elsewhere that came home since we reopened.

“It has been very encouraging for our business.

“We have all organic food, nearly everything comes from Mayo.”

Minister for Rural & Community Development Michael Ring believes that the gradual easing of the restrictions means people can plan for the summer with a bit of certainty.

He told the Irish Mirror: “Don’t forget, we had a major recession ten years ago and emerged stronger from it. I fully believe we will overcome this situation.

“I know that Westport and places like it will tailor their offering to what people want and can afford and to do so in a way is safe and gives people peace of mind. That’s how we’ll attract visitors back.”

Coiln Brennan (L, Irish Mirror) with Biddy Hughes (R) of Westport house, Co Mayo

Biddy Hughes, of the hotel Westport and historic Westport House, has welcomed the earlier re-opening of hotels.

They are collaborating with Clew Bay Bike Hire so guests can experience the wild Atlantic west by hiring bikes on site and cycling an exclusive and accessible 10km loop through the estate, the harbour, and the town.

“Westport House dates back to 1730, the pirate queen Grace O’Malley had five castles around Clew Bay and this house is built on one of those ruins.”

Westport has become a much more popular destination since Biddy’s mother ran a hotel in the town.

She said:”My mother ran a hotel in the town in the 1970s and she used to say a good week was two business travellers.

“Things have changed dramatically since then.”

Colin Brennan (Irish Mirror Editor Online) has tea with Biddy Hughes of Westport house in the library at the house in Westport, Mayo

She believes that the domestic tourism market will help the whole town blossom this summer – a mood of optimism shared by Councillor Christy Hyland who had the idea of lighting up Westport’s bridges.

He said:”It’ll be a symbol of light and hope during what was a dark time for Westport.”

Councillor Christy Hyland on the Mall over looking the river Carrowbeg in Westport Mayo

His wife runs a guesthouse and Christy admits they would normally never have a quiet weekend during the year.

He added: “We’d be very busy normally every weekend of the year.

“Overseas tourists were a huge factor here which has taken a hit.”

Patrick Joyce outside his pub Toby’s Bar in Westport Mayo as we head into phase two… Pic Paul Mealey… See Story Colin Brennan

Publican Patrick Joyce runs Toby’s bar and would be glad to see the two metre social distancing rule reduced to one.

The town of Westport is overlooked by the famous mountain, Croagh Patrick and the event draws thousands of people to the region one Sunday in July.

Councillor Peter Flynn has an ideal view of the reek from his back garden and laments that it being cancelled will be a blow next week.

Cllr and Westport United fc officer Peter Flynn in Westport Mayo

Ciara Joyce, Marketing Manager at Westport Hotel Group, says that for the foreseeable future, tourism in Ireland as a whole will be relying solely on domestic tourism.

She added: “Westport are very lucky in this regard as the home market has always accounted for around 70% of our business.

“Based on research from Failte Ireland, the home market should be very strong from July onwards, and this should spill over into September and October.”

Since the hotels started to advertise their re-opening there has been a strong surge in bookings. 

Ciara added: “It is entirely the domestic market and they are from all over Ireland. 

“Although it must be noted that all of the hotels have lost all of their group international business for now and this currently leaves a large gap to fill.”

Coiln Brennan (Irish Mirror L) with Michael Lennon (R) at the Octagon in Westport Mayo

Michael Lennon is general manager of the Westport Woods Hotel and says that government subsidies will be needed to help kickstart the season.

His daughter is a doctor in the Mater hospital in Dublin and contracted the Coronavirus but thankfully recovered.

“She has recovered and is back to work.

“You can get over the virus.”

Michael admits that Knock Airport is very important for the UK market.

He said:“It is important that we get that corridor open from the UK.

“The 14 day restriction or quarantine needs to be looked at.

“We have to keep up the good work and we’ll get through this.”


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