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Strandhill - Winner 2019

What makes Strandhill special

Strandhill is a coastal village on the North West coast of the Wild Atlantic Way. The village is renowned for its surf and seaweed baths. It has world-class surf waves, a unique landscape, a thriving cultural scene and significant heritage sites.

Strandhill is steeped in local history, with many ancient religious sites and a perfectly preserved 19th century stone cottage. The majestic Knocknarea mountain features a prehistoric cairn dating back 5,000 years (older than the Egyptian pyramids) and said to be the grave of the legendary warrior Queen Maeve.

Health and wellbeing tourism

Visitors to Strandhill are spoilt with a choice of activities, from invigorating hikes and scenic walks to indulging in seaweed baths, Ireland’s only indigenous spa therapy. The village is also home to a challenging 18-hole links golf course and a thriving weekly local market, attracting artisans and producers from all over the region.

When you visit Strandhill, you’ll have a wide range of health and wellbeing options.

For example, Salt and Soul Yoga Studio regularly collaborates with Sligo Surf Experience and Sligo Kayak Tours to put on surf/yoga surf/kayak weekends.

In that same vein, many of the local events have a similar focus, such as the annual Warriors Run up and down Knocknarea, the Warrior of the Sea swimming race, the Coney Island run and the County Sligo Surf Open. The surf centre being built in 2020 will keep surfing (and all the holistic associations) at the core of Strandhill's offering for a long time to come.

Sightseeing tips

  • Go surfing with the likes of Ireland’s best surfers where you’ll find one of the best beach breaks in the country and great local surf schools.
  • Visit the Seaweed Bathhouse to take part in the revived tradition of hot seaweed bathing after a bracing surf or beach walk.
  • Follow the trail to Queen Maeve’s Cairn which graces the summit of Knocknarea for pristine views over Sligo and Ballisodare Bay.

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Scattery Island/Kilrush, Clare - Winner 2017

What makes Scattery Island/Kilrush, Clare special?

Located where the waters of the mighty Shannon river meets the Wild Atlantic Way, lies Scattery Island - one of the least known but most impressive visitor attractions anywhere in Ireland. This little island has a fascinating history and was once the home of legendry monsters, medieval saints, Irish chieftains & Vikings.

The island is located just a short ferry ride away from the beautiful market town of Kilrush in County Clare and boasts a wealth of monastic and historical sites all within comfortable walking distance.

Cultural tourism

Visitors can explore the cathedral and five churches of the ancient celtic monastery founded by Saint Senan in the 6th century. He is said to have died on March 8th 544. The river Shannon is believed to be named after him. Travellers can also marvel at the island’s round tower, one of the tallest and best surviving examples in Ireland.

Next to several historic sites, the island also has a lighthouse, the deserted village where the islanders once lived and beautiful semi-natural grass land which is home to an array of wild bird, animal and plant life which is of great interest to ecologists and bird watchers who visit.

Scattery offers a unique experience for visitors. There are very few uninhabited islands that visitors can enjoy such a calm and tranquil experience coupled with amazing panoramic views of the Shannon Estuary and completely undisturbed by modern day commercial offerings.

In 1942, after salvaging a vessel that allows local families to purchase the island, it was home to Shannon Estuary pilots and their families. The river pilots were highly skilled mariners.

The island is also believed to be the only place in Ireland not affected by the famine and great potato blight.

Sightseeing tips

  • the ruins of the artillery fort, built by the British army over 200 years ago to prevent Napoleon’s armies from sailing up the Shannon towards Limerick
  • free guided tours that include the legend of the monster 'An Cáthach', and the history of Brian Boru - the High King of Ireland who defeated the Limerick Vikings
  • Temple Senan on the island is believed to be the burial place of St. Senan, who founded the ancient Celtic monastery

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The Burren Food Trail - Winner 2015

Local gastronomy

The ideal way to get under the skin of this natural wonderland is through its food. On the Burren Food Trail you are invited to get to know the growers, farmers, producers, chefs, restaurateurs and hoteliers of this ice age legacy. 'The Fertile Rock', as it was once called, makes the Burren the most intriguing food story and food destination on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

The Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark is developing the region's food story in partnership with the Burren Ecotourism Network. The partnership has developed the Burren Food Trail as a product with a number of supporting events and festivals that offer the visitors to the region an insight into the history and culture of the local food.

The objective of the Burren Food Trail is to enable visitors to mentally and physically link the food to the spectacular landscape within which it is enjoyed. It seeks to capitalise on the Burren's uniqueness, the landscape itself, and tell the story of how it has influenced farming, fishing and food flavours, and has inspired a collection of award-winning food producers and restaurants to congregate in the area.

Each festival, event and publication seeks to easily uncover the path from farm to fork, showcasing a destination where producers, growers, suppliers, chefs and shops are working in tangible partnership. The Burren's vision is to create a solid relationship in the mind of the visitor between high quality, sustainable food and the karst limestone landscape, making the Burren the most intriguing food story and food destination on the Wild Atlantic Way.

The Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark grew out of a multi-stakeholder project established by Clare County Council to seek a collaborative balance between conservation and tourism interests in region. In 2012 the Geopark established a sustainable destination strategy and project called GeoparkLIFE. The project aims to strengthen the local economy and support local communities by working with them to create a sustainable tourism destination celebrated for high standards in visitor experience, conservation and learning.

Sightseeing tips

  • Experience the silence and wilderness of the Burren limestone landscape.

  • Explore the Burren Food Trail, Burren Food Trail Mondays and Burren Food Fayre.

  • Go Wild Food Foraging on the Wild Atlantic Coastline.

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Cavan Town and Environs - Winner 2013


Cavan Town and Environs have a disability strategy in place, developed in consultation with disability advisory groups and have made major efforts to provide an accessible tourism experience for visitors.

Staff are trained to cater to the needs of persons with accessibility issues. There are symbols in place to show the accessibility of facilities.

Sightseeing tips

  • Walk along the river and canal paths between towns with a flask of soup and a companion or three.
  • Try gently rolling drumlins one day and upland blanket bogs the next. Enjoy the tranquillity of forest walks in Kingscourt, Virginia and Balieborough.
  • Visit the Marble Arch Caves Geopark – a UNESCO protected site – a special place spanning the uplands of Cavan and Fermanagh. By foot, neo-lithic Ireland reveals itself quietly as you stroll along.

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The Great Western Greenway - Winner 2011

Regeneration and revival

A decade of community-led regeneration was to undo a century of decline when the region’s decaying railway heritage was sensitively renewed for future generations to enjoy.

The former Mulranny railway hotel was reopened in 2005 inspiring a community led initiative to redevelop the Mulranny Causeway and the Victorian walking trails into a high amenity loop walk accessing three sites already a part of the European Unions Natura 2000 network.

Finally, 73 years after closure, the Great Western Railway Linere-emerged into the Great Western Greenway cycle trail, linking Mulranny and Newport to the Westport and Achill cycle hubs, creating a unique, cycling-friendly destination.

Sightseeing tips

  • Visit the Atlantic Drive & Secret Garden Achill, the most westerly public garden in Ireland.
  • Make an environmentally friendly electric cycle tour with Electric Escapes 'Cycling for Softies'.
  • Participate in an art class to practice painting, glass bead-making or many other crafts.

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Loop Head Peninsula - Winner 2010

What makes the Loop Head Peninsula special?

This area is unique because it retains all its character and charm, and is populated by people who are genuinely interested in meeting visitors and showing them how to make the most of their stay on the peninsula.

Loop Head is already famous with geologists and birdwatchers. The stunning sea cliffs of the peninsula are one of the few places in the world where geologists can study by sea and land the 340 million year old carboniferous sedimentary basin.

Sightseeing tips

  • Visit the West Clare Currach Club, which revives the lost art of building and racing traditional fishing vessels.
  • Take a boat trip on the Shannon to see bottlenose dolphins.
  • Visit Kilkee Beach for all water sports from surfing, wind surfing kayaking to yachting and diving.

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The Sheep's Head Peninsula - Winner 2009

What makes Sheep's Head Peninsula special?

On this unparalleled strip of land rests some of Ireland's finest traditions.

The West Cork Chamber Music Festival and the Masters of Tradition evoke musical memories of years past, while the summer festivals held in each of the villages keep the region bustling with energy.

On the first Friday of each month (in summertime every Friday), there's the Bantry Fair Day, a lively market catering to locals and visitors alike.

No trip to Sheep's Head would be complete without setting foot in the numerous pubs and restaurants. Ireland is known for its quality brews and to not indulge in a pint or two at the many establishments is an opportunity missed.

What makes it sustainable?

In 2006 Sheep's Head was also designated as a Special Area of Protection due to the presence of rare birds such as the chough and peregrine. It is measures such as this that make the region an exceptional example of wildlife conservation.

With the region growing in popularity over the past 20 years, community development projects have emphasised sustainable development that respects the environment, its people, culture and history.

The idea is to showcase the peninsula in a fashion that increases visitor numbers while also appreciating the environment.

What to look for in...

  • spring: Fuchsias in full-bloom along the trails
  • summer: Lively festivals celebrating local traditions
  • autumn: Powerful waves crashing against the coastal rocks
  • winter: Busy pubs filled with charm

Other highlights

  • Play 18 holes of golf in unmatched paradise.
  • Eat shepherd's pie washed down with a pint of locally made beer.
  • Spend a quiet night at a century-old bed and breakfast.
  • Go fishing along the brilliant shoreline.

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Carlingford and the Cooley Peninsula - 2008 Winner

The magic of Carlingford

Travellers can visit neolithic tombs such as the Proleek dolmen and Clontygora court grave, walk in the footsteps of the legendary Cuchulainn, discover the Viking settlement and the Norman fortification – all of which add to the charm of this magical island.

Myriad myths and legends surround the area – from the Celtic legends to national tales and the epic 'An Táin Bo Cuailnge' (the cattle raid of Cooley). The Irish giant Finn McCool lies on the side of Slieve Foye with his feet resting in Carlingford Lough, and Fairy Hill on the Cooley Peninsula reputedly has the special power to magically pull parked cars up its slopes.

Carlingford was originally a Viking settlement and even its name originates from its Viking history – 'Carlin Fjord' (fjord simply meant a bay to the Vikings).

It is also listed as a Medieval Heritage Town – having more historical buildings than any town of the same size in the whole of Ireland.

Extensive town walls have survived, together with the ruins of monasteries and, most important of all, of civic buildings – an extremely rare happening in Ireland.

Outdoor activities

Carlingford Town, which in many ways is an outdoor museum of medieval Ireland, offers various adventure activities to tourists like sailing, angling, painting workshops, golf, beauty treatments, horse riding, designer shopping, bird watching, cycling and guided walking tours.

Carlingford even offers a pottery workshop, Irish traditional music workshops and a range of cookery courses taught using local produce and traditional recipes.

There is also a high level of innovation within the tourism industry in the area – the adventure centre is constantly evolving and diversifying its product range, using the natural environment and sustainable materials as much as possible.

There is a full range of visitor services available on the Cooley Peninsula, ranging from banks, churches, medical, shopping, taxis and boat hire to guides and the heritage centre.

In addition, there is an abundance of activities on land and sea including archery, kayaking, raft building, zip wires, horse riding, fishing, sailing, trekking and golfing. Two equestrian centres offer full-day treks, including lunch on the Cooley mountains.

Surrounding area

The nearby towns of Omeath, Greenore and Ravensdale are also worth visiting.

Ravensdale along the southern slopes of Clermont mountain is a quiet, pretty village with its main tourist attractions one kilometre outside it: a forest park and, an equestrian and trekking centre.

Greenore village offers fine views of Carlingford Lough, Slieve Foye and the Mourne mountains.

Key tourist activities in the area include an extensive exhibition on the history of Greenore port and the railway village, fishing from the seashore and golf at the beautifully situated Greenore golf club. Greenore is also the location of an angling festival in July.

Festivals and events

The area hosts a full calendar of sustainable events which include regular concert recitals in the Holy Trinity heritage centre, a recently introduced Irish American festival, Ceol Carilinn, a traditional Irish winter school (February) and a Christmas craft and food fair where the local children recite Christmas carols.

Festivals built around the myths and legends of the destination encourage visitor participation in local traditions.

  • ‘Birds on the Bay’ (February/March) includes walks and talks on the area’s wildlife, raising awareness of the local natural heritage.
  • The Oyster Festival (the end of August) promotes Carlingford as a food destination, focusing on fresh local seafood during Chowder Day, the highlight of the event.
  • The Táin Walking Festival (March) concerns the legendary tale of the attempted theft by Queen Maedbh of Connacht of the brown bull of Cooley and the exploits of Cúchulainn, the Ulster hero, to protect the bull and Ulster from her armies. It features a series of walks and cycling routes.
  • The Cooley Vintage Show (August) includes a vast array of vintage farm machinery which descends on the Cooley peninsula in an attempt to break the world record.
  • The Carlingford Challenge (July) triathlon is spread over mountain, sea and road with cycling, swimming and running and is organised in aid of charity. It is an extremely popular event and attracts big crowds.
  • Poc Fáda (August) is a hurling competition.

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Clonakilty District - 2007 Winner

What makes Clonakilty special?

There are many amenities of natural beauty which are easily accessed. The Seven Heads and Clonakilty Walks are just two of these.

Cycling in the district is available with bicycles to rent on a daily basis. Golf is well catered for with unique courses and the area is also an angler's paradise with lake, river, shore and sea fishing in abundance.

The Chamber's helpful booklet for visitors, titled '50 Ways To Enjoy Clonakilty' directs the visitor to many local products.

Culture and arts

Arts festivals are regular features in Clonakilty District.

Spiller's Lane is an area in the heart of Clonakilty Town that has become home to many arts and crafts outlets and is a very popular attraction.

There are a number of art galleries and craft shops in the district.

The Farmers Market in McCurtain Hill is also an extremely popular attraction with locals and visitors alike. It sells an array of products from fresh local fish, breads and cheese to local arts and crafts.

Throughout the shops and bars in Clonakilty District it is possible to converse in the Irish language.

There is also traditional Irish dancing and singing available and often you will find a 'Seannchai' – a traditional Irish story teller who will regale tourists with myths and legends from long ago.

Renovation and revitalisation

The very successful Tidy Towns Committee in Clonakilty has made huge improvements over the years with landscape conservation/improvements.

Clonakilty and Rathbarry have won many gold medals in recent years and Clonakilty won the overall award in 1999.

This is testament to the work put in by this community group who were also instrumental in achieving international awards such as Entente Florale, Nations in Bloom (China), Communities in Bloom (Canada), LivCom (Liveable Communities and Pride of Place).

There is also a very active Carbon Reduction Group (Sustainable Clonakilty) at work in the community. Clonakilty Town’s selection as the very first Fair Trade Town in the country was achieved solely by the efforts of the Fair Trade Committee.

In terms of developing culture and heritage products, the West Cork Museum, the Michael Collins Centre (an Irish patriot and revolutionary and a leader in Ireland’s War of Independence) and The West Cork Model Railway Village are first class examples.

The life size sculpture of Michael Collins in Emmet Square (where he once lived) unveiled by actor Liam Neeson has proved to be a major tourist attraction.

A full sized stainless steel recreation of the original Model T Ford Car is on view in Ballinascarthy as a tribute to Henry Ford who was born there.

The Clonakilty Library won the Europa Nostra award. A civic centre and theatre is planned. The lives of numerous historical figures associated with the area are recounted by the local historical societies.

Clonakilty District Chamber of Tourism har a good network of providers of tourism products. The Chamber has representatives from all sectors of the community and not just those who have a direct tourism interest.

This allows all members to submit ideas and input to projects so that the wider community can take ownership of the developing tourism product.

In particular there is a sector representative on the Chamber who looks after the interests of those providers outside the town's boundaries. More package tours/holidays will be arranged to promote these interests in the future.

Environmental heritage

The development of the Seven Heads and Clonakilty Walks are examples of ways in which the rural, natural and cultural heritage of areas can be highlighted as an asset and thus preserved.

The preservation of the local marshland as a wildlife refuge gained after local opposition to development plans, is another example of the awareness of the community to these values.

In terms of sustainable tourism development initiatives the Model Railway Village is a prime example. It was developed on a site reclaimed from the sea and that had been used as a refuse tip. Increasing visitor numbers every year is a testament to the foresight of all involved in its construction as a world class attraction. In fact, due to its success a spin-off project - the 'Choo Choo Train' runs from the Model Railway Village into the town of Clonakilty and outlying areas, (all the locals give a friendly wave when they see visitors on board).

The Michael Collins Centre/Arigideen Heritage Park and the reconstruction of Lios Nag Con, a 10th-century ring fort, are other examples. The ring fort is the only one of its kind in Ireland reconstructed on the original site. The River Walk and The Wild Flower Garden are other examples.

Festivals and prizes

Clonakilty District have targeted the month of October for special events such as the Over-50s Festival. The West Cork Rally in mid March starts Clonakilty District’s efforts to extend the season.

Furthermore, two of Clonakilty District’s Bed & Breakfast members, Norma Walsh and Phil Beechinor, won the prestigious Fáilte Ireland Welcome Award in 2004 and 2005 respectively.

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