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Members of the 12 O’Clock Hills Project committee point out local landmarks on the information panel overlooking a beautiful scenic vista extending from Castle Lake right across to the Shannon Estuary. Photography by Eugene McCafferty

East Clare amenity working to meet spike in demand

THERE has been a huge boost in popularity of the walking trails at The 12 O’Clock Hills according to the local organising committee, who have begun a number of initiatives in response to the boom in visitor numbers.

The pandemic has put the focus firmly on domestic tourism and, over the course of the different lockdowns, this outdoor amenity has come into its own.

“It is estimated that during this 15 month period first-time visitors to the facility amounted to as much as 80% of the total attendance on any given weekend,” said Patsy Neville, chairperson of The 12 O’Clock Hills committee.

“Visitors are enthused when after making the inquiry, they are advised that according to local lore the Knockanuara twin peaks were named ‘12 O’Clock Hills’ by the ability of people working the nearby lands to tell when it was noon time by the position of the sun between these twin peaks at certain periods in the year.

“This gave them the capacity to set up an instrument known as a sundial to measure periods of their working day before clocks were invented.”

The boom in visitor numbers and the growing popularity of the area has not been without its challenges, but the dedicated committee have responded by making sure that as many people are facilitated and welcomed.

“The increased visitor numbers necessitated our voluntary community group to engage volunteers to work regular two to three-hour shift patterns at the Belvoir car park every weekend to help with the parking,” Mr Neville added.

“This has been invaluable as we have got very good ratings from visitors who are impressed by the volunteers for not alone helping find parking places but also explaining the different trail options.

“Some weekends were chaotic and even though we could accommodate as much as 100 cars there were a number of situations where we just had to turn away cars because of the capacity and volume issue.

“We are very grateful to all our supporters for their understanding of our parking issues through the period and apologise to anyone who had a bad experience.

“The same applies to local people who may have experienced parking issues at entrances to their property. Our thanks also to our volunteers from outside our regular committee and to all for very generous donations.”

Facilities at the hills have also been boosted with an extension to the car park, hard-coring of muddy sections of the rails, photographic displays on the upper hills to identify views, additional picnic tables and benches for recreational purposes. A video of the trails has also been created for the website, 12oclockhills.com.

“These latest additions to the facility have been funded by the Department of Local Government under the ORIS [Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme] programme and we wish to thank Clare County Council for supporting our funding application,” Mr Neville said.

“In recent weeks we have welcomed Grace and Niamh with their company Morsel in the provision of light refreshments at the Belvoir car park (mainly at weekends) to further enhance the offering.”

The hills committee is also celebrating the recent collaboration with leading milliner and designer, Ailish McElroy, who is based in Bodyke.

“We are now offering a limited collection of unique baseball and beanie caps with a new 12 O’Clock hills branding designed by Ailish,” Mr Neville said.

“These can be purchased online via Ailish’s new website [Ailishmcelroymillinery.com].

“We will also be selling some at the Belvoir car park over the August Bank Holiday weekend.”

By Fiona McGarry

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