Loophead lighthouse draws 2,000 visitors in its first week

THE success of the Loophead lighthouse tourism initiative has been hammered home in the first week of its operation as thousands flocked to the most westerly point of the county.

Figures secured by The Clare People this week revealed that over 2,000 people have now passed through the doors of the famous landmark building – a volume that has already prompted its Clare County Council promoters to extend the opening hours.

“It was initially planned to open from 10am to 4pm, but now we’re going to go from 10am to 6pm,” a council spokesperson revealed. “This is because of the interest that’s there. We have had over 2,000 visitors in its first week.”

The official opening of the light house took place last Monday week, and brought to an end a two-year process that was started when the idea for opening the facility was first floated at Clare County Council.

Local Loophead councillor, Gabriel Keating, made the initial move in July 2009 when calling on “Clare County Council in conjunction with tourism bodies and the Commissioners of Irish Lights to develop the lighthouse as a tourism centre”.

It was the Fine Gael representative’s first ever motion to Clare County Council, having been elected to Clare’s premier decision-making body the previous month and now on the back of the facility’s early popularity has called for additional facilities to be added to the visitor attraction.

“This is only the start,” said Cllr Keating. “This is bringing jobs to the peninsula and there are 10 people employed. I would hope that a museum can be developed in one of the rooms on site. The past week has shown the potential that’s there in Loophead and it’s about moving it on and bringing more people into the area,” he added.

Clare County Council’s Director of Services, Ger Dollard, has revealed that “in the autumn we will be continuing to work with our partners in Shannon Development and Loophead tourism to arrive at a consensus on the future development of the tourism product”.


Wave energy project to generate new jobs

HUNDREDS of jobs could to be created in Clare in the coming years as a result of a number of new Irish wave energy projects which are set to come online off the Clare coast in the coming decade.

This follows the granting of a foreshore license for the WestWave Project at Killard Point off the Doonbeg coast last week, which will see a number of companies use the water off the Clare coast as Ireland’s first wave energy power station.

When completed the prototype wave power station will create an estimated 5MW of electricity. According to Andrew Parish, CEO of wave energy company WaveBob, each megawatt of energy created will equate to roughly 15 jobs onshore, with many more during the construction phase.

This mean that the WestWave Project could create as many as 75 Clare jobs before 2015. With commercial production likely to be roughly ten times the size of the WestWave prototype, the number of Clare jobs to be created could quickly into the several hundred. The Clare, Mayo and Kerry coastlines are considered to be three of the top locations for wave energy in the world.

“Clare has a huge potential for wave energy, indeed the west coast of Ireland has one of the largest wave energy capacities in Ireland. Clare is one of the three counties best served with the potential to exploit wave energy. That is not just about the waves, it is also about the coastline, port facilities and the grid connection,” Mr Parish told The Clare People yesterday.

“The official estimates from the European Commission is that there would be 10 to 15 jobs created for every megawatt of capacity added. So you can see that there is a good number of jobs here.

“We would estimate that about half of these jobs would come in the supply side of the operation – the people who are providing servicing, maintenance, transport and boats. That is on an ongoing basis but during construction there are additional contractors who would be brought in work on that,” he added.

The WestWave Project aims to develop the first wave energy project in Ireland by 2015 by generating an initial 5MW of clean renewable electricity. WestWave is a collaborative project being led by ESB in conjunction with a number of wave energy technology partners including Ocean Energy and WaveBob.


Alcohol a major factor in suicides

ALCOHOL and alcohol addiction is playing an increasing role in the suicide rate in County Clare, with a growing number of suicides in the county having some connection to alcohol abuse.

That is according to the Clare spokesperson for the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) who told The Cla re People yesterday that alcohol is a major contributing factor to many suicides in Clare.

“Alcoholism is a killer disease; even the World Health Organisation (WHO) now recognise it as the third biggest killer on the planet and a lot of those deaths are through suicide,” said the Clare spokesperson for the AA, who asked not to be identified.

“Alcohol is a depressant and, if you drink a lot of it, can become very depressing. That is why a lot of people who become an addict also have suicidal tendencies. The biggest problem with alcoholism is the denial, both from the alcoholic themselves and their friends and families.

“This allows the situation to get worse and worse and worse until eventually it gets too much and suicide or attempted suicide is the way out for some people.”

There are currently 24 AA meetings taking place at different locations throughout Clare every week, evidence that no part of the county is unaffected by alcoholism abuse.

According to Ruth*, a recovering Clare alcoholic who contemplated taking her own life last year, the connection between alcoholic abuse and suicide in Clare is increasing.

“The amount of deaths that I have heard about through [alcohol] overdose and alcohol-related suicides is more than I’ve heard about through illnesses and natural causes. And that is despairing,” says Ruth.

“I have gone to funerals and I have seen how the children of someone who has done that [committed suicide] have reacted. But I can relate to what that person would have felt. I felt like my children would have been better off without me.

“I remember when I was at the Bushypark Treatment Centre, there was a lad in there in his early 20s. When I heard of this young man’s suicide, the thing that I remember most is the look on the counsellors’ faces at Bushypark. It was like they had lost one of their own.”

Anyone who feels that they might have a problem with alcohol can contact the local branch of the AA in confidence on 061 311222. To read about Ruth’s struggle to overcome her alcoholism and the help she found at the Bushypark Treatment Centre, turn to page 29.


Council says a second no to windfarm plan

CLARE County Council has turned down a planning application for a € 50 million windfarm at Shanovogh near Miltown Malbay. This represents the second time in a year that the promoters of the windfarm project have had an application turned down by local authority planners.

In handing down its judgment, the planning authority said the “noise generated” by the wind turbines and development itself would “seriously injure the amenities of residential property” and “depreciate the value of property”.

Planners also ruled that the development would “pose an unacceptable risk to water quality standards”, while also noting that it was “not satisfied that the proposed development will not negatively impact on species and habitats in the area” and finally concluding that the project was “contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area”.

In May, McMahon Finn Wind Acquisitions Ltd lodged an application to build a windfarm on a site that’s two miles away from the West Clare Renewable Energy project on Mount Callan, the green light for which was given by Clare County Council last August.

The application was for a windfarm comprising of six turbines with a height of 85 metres and was submitted to local authority planners by Cian Ó Laoithe Architects.

Last year, Clare County Council invalidated plans submitted by McMahon Wind Ltd for a 12-turbine windfarm on the same site, while a decision date on the new planning application is due in mid-July.

The second application for a windfarm development in the county falls within the guidelines of the Clare County Council wind energy strategy that has set a working target of 550 MW of wind energy to harnessed in the county by 2020.

Between 2000 and 2010, 22 applications for windfarms were lodged with Clare County Council, with one of the first projects to be given the green light being in 2002 when the ESB were granted permission for a nine-turbine € 20 million renewable energy farm at Moneypoint.

Last December, An Bord Pleanála rejected an appeal by An Taisce against a Clare County Council decision to allow Hibernian Windpower to construct a windfarm incorporating 11 turbines of approximately 2500kW capacity each, at Boolynageragh, Lissycasey.

The development site, which is three kilometres north of Lissycasey, will have total rated electrical output of 27.5MW.

The Mount Callan project is set to be the largest community-owned windfarm development in Ireland and is a € 200 million project that aims to create 300 jobs during the construction phase.


Cliff talks collapse

TALKS between management and staff at the Cliffs of Moher Visitors Centre broke down yesterday at the Labour Relation Commission (LRC) with both parties now being sent to the Labour Courts to resolve the ongoing dispute.

The dispute, which led to nine days of strike action by SIPTU members at the world-famous visitors centre, is centred around worker payment and status.

The SIPTU members claimed that they should have the same terms and conditions as employees of Clare County Council, while management at the facility argue that the centre is a private company owned by Clare County Council, and that the workers are not entitled to equal status with council workers.

Industrial action was suspended at the Cliffs of Moher on Friday last when both parties agree to attend a meeting of the LRC. The standing down of industrial action came as SIPTU had threatened to escalate the strike action, serving notice of plans to begin a second picket at the offices of Clare County Council.

This dispute follows a ruling of the Labour Court in 2010 which instructed Cliffs of Moher Centre Ltd to give the centre’s employees the same terms and conditions as council employees.

Clare County Council have argued that the centre will not be in a position to continue operating with the same level of staff should they be forced to improve staff pay and condition. The Clare People contacted both the management of the Cliffs of Moher Centre Ltd and local SIPTU representatives in relation to this but neither party was in a position to comment on the situation at this stage.


Three-storey Kilrush house for €20,000?

THE extent of the collapse in property prices around the county has been hammered home this week, after industry sources have claimed that a three-storey house in Kilrush has been for sold for as low as € 20,000. The Clare People has been told that a house on Moore Street in the west Clare capital was sold for this knockdown price as the drop in property prices reaches new lows in the county on the back of the economic recession.

When contacted by The Clare People on Monday, the selling agents for one house on Moore Street said that it hasn’t been sold for € 20,000, but that there was an asking price of € 60,000 on the property.

However, other industry sources have confirmed that a sale price of just € 20,000 has been agreed for one house on the street, which boasted five bedrooms, a garden and rear access.

Such a price would represent a 20year low for a house price in Kilrush and puts the town well ahead of the national average when it comes to the depreciation of property values.

Only last February, it was revealed that house prices in the county had dropped by up to 40 per cent in the past five years, figures that now put the decline of the county’s housing market ahead of the national average as calculated by the Economic and Social Research Institute.

The ERSI house prices index revealed that prices had fallen nationally by 38 per cent since 2006, while outside Dublin the drop was 8.1 per cent for 2010.

Figures secured by The Clare People showed that the rates of depreciation were higher again in Clare, with many houses across the county having dropped back as far as 2001 prices.


Adult learners building a future and friendships

THE success of the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS) was again evident when another Ennis batch of mature students and graduates from the county capital’s Adult and Community Education Centre received certificates.

While adult education plays a key role in learners’ self-development, it also has another strong tradition, pointed out speakers from County Clare Vocational Education Committee at the celebratory event in Cois na hAbhna. The presentations were made by Cllr Gabriel Keating (FG), standing in for the committee chair- man, Cllr Tommy Brennan (Ind).

Through the VTOS learning process students are enabled to create their own knowledge which in turn brings about change not just in the lives of the learners but also the communities in which they live and the wider society, it was pointed out.

The chief executive officer of the committee, George O’Callaghan, said that once students became critically aware of certain aspects of the education system they could take action to bring about change. It was no coincidence, therefore, that many former and current students of VTOS throughout the county were engaged in such activities as after-school homework clubs, voluntary tutoring in literacy and numeracy and in community groups. The Further Education and Training Awards Council of Ireland (FETAC), which certifies VTOS courses, is now an integrated part of the qualifications framework recognised in most other countries. One of the things it facilitates is starting at any point of the programme to obtain other certificates.

The most recent course participants in Ennis, in all 71 of them, were complimented by the programme co-ordinator, Helen O’Sullivan, on managing time away from their other responsibilities to devote to further study and learning. She praised them for their dedication and hard work under a brilliant set of teachers who in turn were greatly assisted by the administrative staff of the vocational education committee and the support staff in the centre.

“Those who are receiving certificates today can face the future with greater confidence,” she added. “Many of you returned to formal education after a long break, often spanning decades, and through hard work and perseverance you have achieved success. Many of you have continued with your studies, more have gone on to employment while others are still searching.

“Participation in the VTOS pro- gramme means embracing much more than vocational training. Students of this programme have commented that it is not just about certification; it is about the lifelong friendships that are made and fostered; it is also about the confidencebuilding and bringing out of skills and talent that have lain dormant for years or never tapped into before. In truth, for many it is a programme of discovery.

“We are pleased to acknowledge the achievements of all who are involved in today’s ceremony and wish all our students and graduates continued success on their path of lifelong learning,” she concluded.


Burren Smokehouse’s going Deutsch

A CLARE company has secured two extremely lucrative new outlets for its products, one being Berlin’s answer to Harrods and the other the flagship store and mail-order lists of a top US speciality foodstore, worldwide.

The Burren Smokehouse secured a listing and got their first order this week for a selection of 11 different products with KaDeWe, one of mainland Europe’s largest department store.

The Clare company is now supplying the only Irish food products in the store.

Meanwhile, the final touches are being put to having the company’s products on sale through the mailing list and in the main New York store of a major US speciality food supplier.

“We’re delighted with both of the listings, I can’t say yet who the US supplier is yet, but there are 35,000 customers a week through their store alone and that’s not even taking account of the mail order opportunity. We are hoping to get our first order from them in September,” said Smokehouse founder, Birgitta Hedin-Curtin.

Bord Bia offices in Germany and in Dublin and the Bord Bia / Smurfit Business School Fellowship students in Germany were all involved in getting the Clare fish products on the shelves in Berlin.

“KaDeWe is a historical department store and is in existance for over 100 years. It first opened 1907. Each day up to 180,000 customers from around the world are welcomed in by the 2,000 KaDeWe staff.

Now our products will feature in its world-famous gourmet department on the sixth floor. This is Berlin’s premium department store,” said Birgitta.

Burren Smokehouse attended and exhibited at the the US listing company after they exhibited at the Fancy Food Fair in Washington DC last week. The event showcased 180,000 speciality products, with 2,400 exhibitors, with more than 80 countries represented.

“The wide and varied ethnic diversity of the US means that food culture and taste trends are very dynamic in this, the largest grocery market in the world,” said Birgitta.

Helping the smokhouse products get through the door of the US deli was the Bord Bia New York office headed by Karen Coyle.

The Burren Smokehouse exhibited with their importer and distributor, Food Ireland Inc owned by Irishman Pat Coleman.

“Pat has Clare family connections so it was great to have him with us,” said Birgitta.

It is too early, Birgitta said, to assess what will come of the company’s exposure in the new market, but, she added, the Burren company will be making the most of the opportunity.


Small businesses lining up to go online

CLARE small businesses and sole traders are jumping at a chance to get their services and products on the web for next to nothing.

A course in getting a business website up and running, which the Clare County Enterprise Board intended to run for one session, has exploded in popularity with the board having had to put on eight courses and counting.

The course, sponsored by Google, web hosts Black Knight and the Enterprise Boards gets a business or any self-employed person online with their own website in just three hours of intensive work. And it costs just € 25, a fraction of the amount that a struggling business would normally have to shell out.

The scheme was set up in the wake of a study which showed that only about half of small Irish businesses have their own websites. And the chance to have a presence online is proving far more popular in Clare than in other counties involved in the nationwde scheme, according to CCEB business advisor, Lucy Reidy.

“It has really taken off. We thought we might have had interest from seven or eight small businesses or individuals but instead we’ve had 80 sign up so far and requests for places on the course are still coming in, and that’s without even adverstising it,” Lucy told The Clare People .

“From our contact with other Enterprise Boards who are running the scheme, the takeup elsewhere isn’t anything like we’ve seen in Clare.”

The course involves three hours of intensive tuition and work with train- ers. The instructors contact course particpants in advance to have them gather up pictures, prepare descriptions of the business and any other relevant information which might be needed for the site.

“After the three-hour course, people go home with their website up and running and enough tuition to make changes to it themselves. The course is open to all professionals, whether they are in retail engineering, solicitors, catering, all fields. The only restriction is that to have a ‘.ie’ site you have to be a registered company, but people don’t have to be registered to have a ‘.eu’ or ‘.com’ site,” Lucy explained.

She added that the CCEB will continue to provide the courses for “as long as people want to do them and all partcipants have to pay is the € 25 to cover things like hiring costs.”

The next course is being run on August 31 and there are still some places available.

Anyone interested can apply online through the Enterprise Board’s website or ring for information on 065 6841922.


Clare volunteers get a deal with discount cards

THERE has been a positive response to a new countywide volunteer discount card with 160 Clare businesses so far signing up to support the scheme.

The Clare Volunteer Centre launched their volunteer discount card in January 2011 with the support of the Ennis Chamber of Commerce, Clare County Council, Ennis Town Council and the Clare Local Development Company.

The card has been created to allow volunteers access to a range of discounts and special offers from businesses around the county for 2011, The European Year of the Volunteer. 160 businesses around Clare are taking part in the scheme with 2,000 cards being issued so far.

Businesses who are involved are listed on the booklet accompanying the card and also on the website.

The Clare Volunteer Centre launched the scheme in partnership with Clare businesses in order to recognize the work of the county’s voluntary sector.

Last year, 256 people registered with the centre, an increase of 25 per cent from 2009, bringing the total number of volunteers registered at the centre to 496.

Sharon Meaney, CVC Development Co-ordinator, explained. “Acknowledging volunteers is just one method among many for businesses to become involved in their communities. Community involvement benefits not only the local community but can boost business itself.”

She continued, “The discount amount is at the discretion of the business with most giving 10 per cent. Kilrush, in particular, have seen an immense positive reaction to the card. It is seen to be building a great relationship between the community and businesses.”

Ms Meaney said, “Volunteers, now more than ever, are the backbone of many communities throughout the county. It is an ideal time, being European Year of the Volunteer, for your business to join with the community and say thank you to the volunteers who work tirelessly, giving their time, skills, experience and energy freely.”

The Clare Volunteer Centre is part of the national network of volunteer centres, supported by Volunteer Centres Ireland.

The Clare Volunteer Centre opened its doors in Ennis in 2008. Businesses interested in taking part in the scheme can contact Ennis Chamber of Commerce.