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Wild Atlantic Way delivers tourist boom to West region

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This year is set to be the busiest tourism year for overseas visitors since records began with the Wild Atlantic Way drawing tourists west earlier in the season and encouraging them to stay longer.

Official figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show the best January to July period for foreign tourists, with more than 5.4 million arrivals, representing an increase of almost 13% – 612,400 additional overseas visitors when compared with the first seven months of 2015.

July alone recorded more than one million arrivals from abroad.

There have been increases across the board from all regions of the world, with an 8% rise in trips from Britain, reaching just over one million. Visits from other European countries also tipped just over the million mark.

Americans are increasing their number of trips to Ireland the most, with a 13.3% increase in those who travelled this year.

While figures are not broken down regionally by the CSO for many months, all anecdotal evidence points to a very strong year so far, underlined Fiona Monaghan, head of the Wild Atlantic Way in Fáilte Ireland.

“Just past the January blues there was an increase in visitor numbers and September and October are looking very, very strong,” she told the Connacht Tribune.

“There was a mix of domestic and overseas tourists – the international visits started arriving from March and April, so they’re coming earlier and staying longer than ever before.”

The big jump in visitors west of the Shannon is down to a combination of elements which all aligned for 2016 – the Wild Atlantic Way touring route is now luring independent tourists to travel longer distances in hired cars; there has been an increase in air access from key markets and the favourable exchange rates is drawing more Americans.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that 2016 will see the largest number of overseas visitors ever to the west with national figures showing tourist numbers will break the eight million mark for the first time since 2008,” exclaimed Fiona.

“We’re finding that tourists are booking their first and last nights but are not committing to bed nights in between – they want to be fluid and see what appeals to them while on the Wild Atlantic Way.

“They’re spending two to three nights in Galway and using it as a base to see the Burren, Connemara and the Aran Islands. The challenge we have is to get them to stay in more peripheral areas and during the shoulder months.”

While welcoming the continuing growth in visitors, Galway hoteliers have sounded a note of caution that the effect of Brexit and the weakness in sterling need to be monitored so that the sector can plan for potential negative impact.

Paul Gill, vice president of the Irish Hotels Federation and manager of the Claregalway Hotel, said there has been a real sense of optimism in Galway this summer season with more visitors on the ground.

Tourism generates €506 million in Galway and supports 15,000 jobs.

“However, Brexit is a significant concern with sterling having fallen by more than 16% against the Euro compared to this time last year. This could have a negative knock-on effect for our local tourism industry,” he warned.

“The 9% VAT rate in particular has been of major significance to the industry. This has brought our VAT rate into line with other European destinations and helped level the playing field for tourism businesses to compete for visitors. This has led to increased visitor numbers and also allowed tourism business in Galway to create additional employment whilst reinvesting revenues in the sector.”

Loughrea Municipal District Cathaoirleach Jimmy McClearn lashed out at Fáilte Ireland at last week’s meeting for ignoring East Galway in all their marketing campaigns.

“We have to renew and reinvigorate our efforts to come up with some strategy for East Galway – we’re in a no man’s land as we’re not part of the Ancient East or the Wild Atlantic Way. It’s not good enough we’re being ignored.”

Fáilte Ireland is currently conducting a review of the body’s Lakelands and Inland Waterways strategy, which includes Portumna on Lough Derg.

Connacht Tribune

Record crowds pack Ballinasloe to celebrate Fair’s 300th anniversary

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Crowds flock to the Fairgreen at the Ballinasloe Horse Fair.

RECORD crowds packed into Ballinasloe last weekend for the return of the famous October Fair – but it turned to be a ‘dry day’ for the punters with most of the pubs in the town taking the decision to close their doors on Sunday.

Hotels in the town also adopted either a ‘food only’ or ‘residents only’ policy through Sunday but Gardaí reported a trouble-free weekend in the town.

“There were huge crowds around and especially so on Sunday, but we had no reports of any trouble – it was practically an incident free weekend,” said a Garda spokesperson.

Many visitors to the Fair on Sunday expressed disappointment at the decision of the pubs to close  – although a few establishments did open their doors with special security arrangements in place.

The last ‘official fair’ took place in October, 2019, and while there was an unofficial event last year, it was only a small gathering due to the Covid restrictions.

An estimated 3,000 people turned out for the free open-air country music concert with Mike Denver in the Square on Sunday afternoon and Fair organisers also reported a very busy sales day with many horses changing hands.

Trustee of the Ballinasloe Showgrounds, Gerry Stronge, told the Connacht Tribune, that after a three-year break, the crowds had really thronged back into the town on Sunday.

“Most people I know that have been attending the Fair for years said that it was biggest crowd they had ever seen there on the first Sunday of the event.

“It was an incredible day – the streets were absolutely jammed with people – and it was most enjoyable with no trouble whatsoever,” he said.

Get the full story with loads of photos in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie. You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Compo can keep sex abuse dad out of jail

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Galway Courthouse.

An estranged father who sexually assaulted his then-ten-year-old daughter seven years ago will escape a two-year jail term – if he pays her €12,000 within the next twelve months.

Counsel for the 51-year-old man, who cannot be identified in order to protect the identity of the victim, indicated at Galway Circuit Criminal Court this week that his client would avail of Judge Brian O’Callaghan’s offer and would sell off some of his assets to raise the €12,000.

Earlier in the sentence hearing, the now-17-year-old victim told the court the seven-year delay in bringing her father to justice had caused her and her mother untold grief and suffering.

“It’s been seven years, dealing with court dates and adjournments and only now, seven years later, have I got the closure I needed,” she said.

The judge apologised to her and everyone else involved for the delay in finalising the case.

“Even allowing for Covid, it is without question that the judicial, legal, criminal system has failed all parties in this case and it’s appropriate I should give that apology,” Judge O’Callaghan said.

Prosecuting state counsel, Conall MacCarthy, said the man maintained his innocence when arrested and interviewed in April 2016.

He had been due to stand trial on two occasions in the last few years but each time his trial was adjourned for various reasons, including Covid.

He then pleaded guilty, moments before his trial was eventually due to get underway last November, to a charge of sexually assaulting the girl on August 15, 2015, at the family home near a Co. Galway village.

Sentence was adjourned on four occasions since to await the results of a probation report before it was finalised this week.

Resd the full court report in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie. You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Hero’s welcome for king of the high seas

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Atlantic rower Damian Browne holds a flare as he enters Galway Docks to a hero’s reception. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

“I just had a deep belief I was going to complete it – and nothing was going to stop me.”

Those were the words of former Connacht rugby player and now transatlantic rower Damian Browne who returned to a hero’s welcome at Galway Docks on Tuesday, just hours after his mammoth journey came to an end on the rocks at Furbo.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, 42-year-old Browne’s vessel, the Cushlamachree, came ashore just down from Pádraicín’s – not the ending the Renmore man wanted for his epic trip from New York to Galway.

The journey was due to end at the Docks at 11am on Tuesday morning, but as it turned out, Browne had a few hours at home before being met by huge crowds who, despite the rain, came out in their hundreds to welcome the extreme adventurer back.

Children from schools across the city were among the hoards of people who lined the Harbour, including those from his alma mater, St Joseph’s (The Bish) who formed a guard of honour with oars to greet Browne.

His arrival to the Docks, escorted by Galway Harbourmaster Brian Sheridan, was met with endless cheers as drumbeat and flares signalled the end of his four months at sea.

“The winds coming from the south were blowing me up through the Aran Islands and it was great to get me through the islands, but then they kept pushing me towards the north coast of Galway and nothing I could do would stop them,” says Browne of the final hours of his journey.

“Before I knew it, I was at Pádraicín’s and heading for Barna, trying to get into Barna Pier to anchor down . . . it was very tense. I saw two rocks that I knew were there, but I thought I was further out, and then I had to whip the boat around.

“I had about two seconds to whip it around, 270 degrees, and head straight out to sea, but as I did, I got hit by a massive wave.”

The boat capsized, one of his oars broke and it was at that moment he knew it was time to get up on the rocks and call for assistance.

Get the full dramatic story – and full coverage of the welcome home – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie. You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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