By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
What a crazy month for travelers! If you had told someone prior to April that you couldn’t visit due to a volcanic ash cloud, they’d think you were joking.
And that’s exactly what I thought when a longtime friend called from England to cancel her April 15 trip to Mayo. Of course, as our readers know, she was not joking and the eruption of the Icelandic volcano and resulting shutdown of airports all over Ireland, the British Isles, and Europe has been anything but a joke.
Thousands of flights were cancelled and airlines say they’ve lost more than a billion euro. And, there were other losses, too ,such as the fragile blooms flown from Kenya whose longevity depends on the speed of airfreight. Kenya's flower exporters, I was interested to learn, supply about a third of the flower imports into the European Union.
In the tourist industry, Fáilte Ireland (the Irish arm of our Tourism Ireland) cancelled Meitheal, the biggest tourism trade fair of the year, which had been set to start April 20. Some 300 Irish tourist firms had planned to pitch their product to more than 250 overseas operators from 23 countries who couldn’t get to Ireland. Meitheal has been rescheduled for May.
For Irish rental car companies – like Dooley Car Rentals – it has been a nightmare, says Pat Dooley, CEO. “We are refunding in full clients who cannot make it here and amending those that can get new travel dates, all without fees. It is a nightmare with extra staff dealing with the administration. Those visiting here from the USA are having to extend their stay. So we have many trying to get into the country and as many trying to get out.”
And, The Irish Times reported that Eamonn McKeon, chief executive of the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation, said, “It’s really, really unfathomable, but nature is nature. There’s not a thing you can do about it, to be honest, other than feeling desperately sorry for everyone. We’ve really had blow after blow in the tourism industry and this is making things go from bad to worse.”
Between April 15 and April 18, nearly 2,000 flights in and out of Dublin, Cork, and Shannon were cancelled, upsetting travel plans of some 230,000 passengers. That number increased with each passing day.
The Times reported that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) had given a “conservative” estimate that the volcanic eruption cost the airline industry more than $200 million (150 million euro) per day in lost revenues.
Some were pretty inventive about getting where they needed to go, though, like actor John Cleese, who paid $4,950 for a taxi to take him from Norway to Belgium so he could catch the Eurostar train home to London. And, Michael Parsons, who wrote in The Irish Times that he was one of 53 marooned in Rome who each paid 150 euro for a seat on a bus to Le Havre in France, where they planned to catch a ferry to Portsmouth and ultimately to Dublin Port.
But the weather eventually changed, the skies reopened and air travel returned to normal. Now it just remains for all the Monday morning quarterbacks to debate the many aspects and wisdom of shutting down the skies. Frankly, I’d rather be safe than sorry and applaud the civil aviation authorities, volcanic information center and airlines for taking that cautious approach.
GREAT WESTERN GREENWAY
But, don’t fret. Not all of Ireland is in dire straits and, in fact, there were a great many happy folks in the West who attended the April 16 official opening of the 18km traffic-free Great Western Greenway that runs from Newport to Mulranny in Co. Mayo.
Transport Minister Noel Dempsey, T.D., officiated and was surely delighted to don a helmet, hop on a bike, and enjoy a sunny, brilliant Mayo day rather than dealing with the airline crisis.
Crowds gathered at Nevin’s Newfield Inn, then many joined the minister and rode the greenway from John and Hannah Moran’s farm into Mulranny where the official ceremony took place behind the Park Hotel.
The Greenway primarily follows the bed of the old Newport/Mulranny Railway, once part of the famed Westport/Achill Railway that operated for 42 years but closed in 1937. The route offers gentle gradients, is part of the National Cycle Network, and is the longest off-road cycling path in the country.
We’ve written before that being on Ireland’s roads is incredibly daunting and not just because we are accustomed to driving on the other side of the road. Many Irish drivers – especially the young – cling to your bumper (especially if you’re not going 100 km), pass on curves, and drive at speeds that are simply mind-boggling given the width and condition of the roads. So being able to enjoy the scenery on a walking/cycling path is a dream come true for the local residents and their guests and for tourists to the area.
Dempsey thanked more than 70 landowners who granted passage over their land for the Greenway and added that the project shows that community spirit is alive and well in the West of Ireland. He said he expected the Greenway to bring economic benefit to the area as well and serve as a model for future walking/cycling paths.
If you’ve visited Ireland lately, you know that the food is amazing, locally sourced and fresh, and that chefs here are incredibly inventive.
Kinsale in Co. Cork is the acknowledged Gourmet Capital of Ireland but may be getting some competition from 38 food producers and restaurants on The Taste of Kilkenny Food Trail. A detailed guide and map are available and visitors are invited to sample everything from chocolates to cheese and sausage and to visit local restaurants.
BURREN IN BLOOM
If you’re in Co. Clare in May, be sure to visit a tourist office and find out about all the programs offered under the banner of the Burren in Bloom. Winter was harsh this year and the flowers are about a month late, so May should be absolutely bursting with blooms.
This program enters around the town of Ballyvaughan, the “capital of the Burren,” and celebrates the arrival of summer. There are all kinds of activities planned for all ages, including festivals, a whale watch and there’s even a Burren marathon on May 22 when hundreds of walkers take to the hills. For more information, see ballyvaughanireland.com.
Now that flights are in the air again, be sure to visit aerlingus.com or the other transatlantic airlines and book your trip to the Emerald Isle. It’s a great place to be at any time of year.
By Judy Enright