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Aran event provides significant tourism boost for the islands

Around 50 boats with 200 crew and as many more supporters will sail into Inis Mór next week – boosting the island’s staycation economy over five days of the west coast’s biggest sailing event of the year.

It’s all down to the West of Ireland Offshore Racing Association’s Championships which take place from Wednesday to Saturday, July 5 to 8, bringing sailing enthusiasts from Fenit, Foynes, Kilrush, Galway, Westport and Sligo.

And in many ways, they are merely the latest chapter in a story as old as time itself – because the history of sailing off the Aran Islands is evident even to first time arrivals as they approach Cill Rónáin on Inis Mór when they see the buoy at the Straw Island light house entrance to the harbour, marked ‘Killeaney Bay’.

This is because when these waters were first charted Cill Éinne was the only harbour on Aran. Situated at a long narrow inlet or ‘aircín’, on the east of the island it was here that Cromwellian Forces built Arkin Castle to control comings and goings on the island.

It wasn’t until 1831 that the small pier (sean-chéibh) was built at Cill Rónáin and in 1853 the original part of main pier was built into deep water there.

When the 40 or so sailboats arrived at Cill Rónáin for the first WIORA event in 2017, they would have been a welcome sight to the islanders, for Aran once had a sailboat tradition and even its own boatyard.

Back in the early nineteenth century there were about 40 sailboats fishing out of Cill Éinne. But these sailboats dwindled in favour of the currach which could be launched and carried ashore at end of day any point along Aran’s northern shore.

Today, the island’s export is tourism and WIORA is sailing tourism.

WIORA was established in 1972 as an association of sailing clubs along the western seaboard from Sligo to Kerry, including the Shannon and the championships rotate between these clubs each year.

Between competitive and non-competitive vessels about 50 boats with 200 crew and as many more supporters are expected to arrive on Inis Mór before the start of proceedings on Wednesday to trigger the biggest west coast sailing event of the year.

With its wide expanse of water suited to all classes of racing, safe anchorage and onshore facilities to cater for crews, supporters and event functions, Aran proved to be such an attractive location for the WIORA 2017 Championships, and other sailing events since then, that Galway Bay Sailing Club (GBSC), with the support of Aran’s businesses and community, has decided to return there again for WIORA 23.

And it is fitting that the WIORA emblem of the saffron cross of St Brendan; the west coast’s original navigator, will guide the boats to this once monastic island.

The WIORA Championships were first staged in Aran in 2017, principally to support the newly formed Club Seoltóireachta Árann but also to introduce sailors to the unique Aran experience.

It was a phenomenal success not just on the water but also socially.

Many sailors returned afterwards with their families to holiday on the islands and expressed the wish that GBSC would recreate the Aran WIORA experience this year and, in the process, reboot the local sailing initiative.

There will be four days of racing off the northern shores of the islands and also a round islands race for the bigger boats, a race that is most spectacular on Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr because of the proximity of the course to these islands.

Sailboats cruising the western seaboard have always sheltered in Aran but now it is becoming a sailing destination in itself due to the scenery, culture and hospitality of the islands.

The islanders, of course, have an affinity with boats as, for most of the history of human settlement on the islands, the mode of transport to and from the mainland was with sailboats; steam and diesel engines being relatively recent developments.

West of Ireland sailors have competed at the highest level of international sailing with Bill King of Oranmore in the first round the world Whitbread Race in the 1960’s, and it is hoped that the WIORA event will inspire future generations of young sailors to continue this fantastic kind of participation in events.

For all details of the event, go to www.


For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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