A NEW sea service bringing tourists from Galway City to the Burren will be launched this weekend.
The company behind the initiative believes in the region of 4,000 tourists a year could be brought to North Clare and South Galway on the sailings, as planned, but that there is capacity to expand the service.
MacMara, a newly-formed marine and coastal ecotourism company based in Kinvara, will launch the routes at the pier in the village on Saturday.
The company will run daily crossings from Galway Port across the bay to Kinvara and Ballyvaughan on alternate days, as well as coastal trips plying the bay.
The foundation for the tourist-orientated ferry was the feasibility study for the Ballyvaughan Bay Hop, a community-led sea commuter service from Ballyvaughan to Galway City. Gwen Ryan was the driving force behind that project and is now involved with MacMara.
“We had very positive feedback from the Bay Hop. There was a lot of interest in it but that interest was mainly from leisure travellers and people who wanted to do day trips. Because of that, the focus has gone off being a commuter service and is really focussing now on leisure travellers and bringing people from Galway City to the Burren and South Galway,” she explained.
Ms Ryan and MacMara founder, Michael McArdle, believes the sailings will complement the Wild Atlantic Way, allowing people to travel a small section of it by sea.
“With MacMara offering short bay crossings, ecotours and even charters, this is a unique opportunity to experience the Wild Atlantic Way by sea, as well as by land. MacMara will be working in partnership with local tour guides, slow food providers, bicycle hire companies, B&Bs, restaurants, pubs and so on, to allow visitors to explore the Burren, Connemara and the islands,” Ms Ryan said.
Land-based activities, such as food tours, biking and walking, will add to the marine and coastal tours.
“Coming into the Burren and arriving into Galway City by water is great. Really, nothing compares to it. We are hoping that the local hospitality industry will support this,” she added.
“The service will bring customers to them and we have been speaking to businesses in the Burren Ecotourism Network about this and they have been very positive,” Gwen Ryan continued.
Initially, MacMara will offer direct sailings to and from Galway Port but if the demand is there, this could be extended as the company is licensed to operate from Galway Bay to Clew Bay, including all the islands along the Galway, Clare and Mayo coastline.
“MacMara will help increase the accessibility of the Burren, Connemara, the islands and coastlines of Galway, Clare and Mayo to independent travellers from Galway and will do so in a sustainable way through marine ecotourism,” explained Ms Ryan.
“Initially we will be doing the bay hops but later we will be offering tours in collaboration with businesses on land. One example of this is that we have set up a self-guided bicycle tour, in connection with Burren Fine Wines. We want to do more of this kind of thing,” she explained.
Mr McArdle, who was also a member of the Ballyvaughan Bay Hop project team and is from Salthill but living in Kinvara, described it as “a dream come true” to be launching this maritime service on Galway Bay.
As a civil and environmental engineer, he worked on a number of marine projects on the islands of Inishbofin and Inis Meáin, including construction of coastal protection works, airstrip construction and pier reconstruction on the island of Inishbofin, as well as the construction of the new harbour and breakwaters at An Caladh Mór on Inis Meáin. Mr McArdle noticed there were few boats on waters off the west coast and resolved to create a marine and coastal ecotourism company to share the beauty of the Atlantic coastal waters with small groups of people in a sustainable way, thus benefitting the coastal communities dotted around the western seaboard. To fund his dream, he worked in the Middle East for the past few years.
With grant assistance and support from Galway Rural Development Ltd, through the LEADER rural development programme, MacMara purchased Lophelia, a licensed, hard-cabin, passenger boat.
“Lophelia is a state-of-the-art passenger boat designed for comfort and safety in a fully enclosed cabin to protect passengers from the elements. It is licensed to carry 12 passengers and two crew. This is the type of craft that can cross from Galway city to Kinvara or Ballyvaughan in less than 30 minutes, yet be flexible enough to explore small inlets and indented shoreline of South Connemara and the islands,” explained Ms Ryan.
While the launch will take place in Kinvara this Saturday, sailings will depend on a minimum number of bookings.
“This is not a subsidised service,” Ms Ryan outlined, “therefore we are really hoping that local businesses will support and encourage their own customers and guests to use the service and similarly on the Galway side.”
The MacMara sailings could start as early as this weekend, with sailings from Galway Port to Kinvara on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and to Ballyvaughan on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.