WATERFORD’S Copper Coast has undoubtedly been one of Ireland’s hidden gems for many years.
However, the profile of the area has thankfully increased and gained national recognition in recent times.
This has been helped in no small part by the efforts of many different communities which have now come together as part of the Copper Coast Forum.
Several meetings have taken place this year, with the first held in Kill Community Centre back in February.
Subsequent meetings have been held in Dunhill, Bonmahon and Stradbally.
The last meeting of the year took place in the spectacular surroundings of Woodhouse Estate on Wednesday night last.
Owners Jim and Sally Thompson, who are keen to engage with the local community and support different initiatives and groups, treated visitors to a mulled wine reception and a scrumptious dinner.
There was an inspiring and heartening atmosphere as representatives from different communities discussed various activities which are taking place throughout the local area.
The Copper Coast Forum is a great example of communities taking matters into their own hands and being proactive.
One of the key messages which emerged from last week’s meeting was that the area must promote the many assets which it has rather than focusing or bemoaning what it doesn’t have.
Sean Corcoran of The Art Hand,located just outside Bonmahon, highlighted the importance of promoting all of these existing assets.
Although there aren’t many major commercial stakeholders in the area, he pointed out that a list has been compiled detailing all of the area’s assets which certainly proves that the area can have a positive future.
The list includes all accommodation providers, shops, beaches, tourism facilities, heritage locations, and enterprises in the area.
It also lists the many different community groups operating along the Copper Coast with all of the sports facilities, big houses, gardens, annual events, festivals, and even graveyards.
“The people themselves are also assets,” said Sean.
Representatives from each individual area within the Copper Coast are also compiling details of their own specific location and the assets which they possess.
For example, Marie Cleary from the Kill Action & Alert Group explained that she had worked with local man Tom Power on developing a document about Kilmurrin.
This document outlines the details of this beautiful area which is a popular bathing spot.
Did you know that up to about the late seventies,Kilmurrin had its own herd of wild goats and the sinkhole on the eastside of the cove was, and is still is, referred to as ‘The Goats Jail’?
On the road to Bonmahon, on the right hand side of the first bend, lie the bodies of unknown sailors who were washed up on Kilmurrin Cove in the 17th/18th century, their identity and name of ship they sailed on never established.
Kilmurrin Cove also stages the hugely successful Michael Power Christmas Day Memorial Swim each year.
The first ever Christmas Day Swim took place at Kilmurrin Cove when Michael Power cajoled his friends to continue swimming up to and including Christmas Day.
Michael died unexpectedly on December 17th 1984 and the swim became known as the Michael Power Memorial Swim in his honour.
It has raised hundreds of thousands of euro for numerous charities and organisations ever since and will raise funds for the Touching Hearts charity this year.
This is an example of the vibrancy which exists within just one small community along the Copper Coast.
Also speaking at last week’s meeting, Robbie Galvin from the Copper Coast UNESCO Geopark Centre outlined how the Geopark can benefit all of the surrounding areas.
He explained that consultations have been taking place in relation to future plans, with the Centre currently working with a consulting firm to develop a new business plan for the next five years.
The Centre is applying for an ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’ grant for the development of a virtual reality amenity which will tell the Copper Coast story.
They are working with Emagine who developed the impressive and successful ‘King of the Vikings’ virtual reality experience which is located in Waterford’s Viking Triangle.
Robbie explained that the Copper Coast has also been incorporated into the Munster Vales, a new inland tourism proposition which incorporates mountain ranges such as the Comeraghs and surrounding areas.
Their annual Christmas Fair was held recently and once again proved to be a great success as did the Book Fair in October.
The Centre also staged events including environmental workshops as part of Science Week 2017.
Robbie outlined how the Centre is working on an early year educational geology project and is also compiling an impressive series of itineraries for tourists who call to the Centre along with the development of ‘Geopark ambassadors’.
Crucially, the Centre is also working towards the next validation of its UNESCO status.
In 2015, the area was awarded the status of UNESCO Global Geopark.
A revalidation process is carried out every four years so the Copper Coast Geopark must seek to achieve this status once again in 2019.
The first ever Copper Coast Festival was staged this year and proved to be a great success.
From May 25th to June 10th, a series of interesting events were held throughout the Geopark.
More than 20 events were brought together under the umbrella of the festival and more than 600 people attended the many different events.
The aim is to stage another festival next year during the first week of June which will hopefully gain more traction and once again incorporate all of the surrounding communities.
The centre is also involved in a project to develop geotourism across the Atlantic area of Europe called Atlantic Geoparks.
Along with 13 other Atlantic Area European partners, the Geoparkhas been successful in its application to the EU Interreg Atlantic Area Programme for funding to develop and promote geo tourism within existing and aspiring Geoparks in Atlantic Europe.
This 30 month project will endeavour to forge new tourism links and products, within an Atlantic geotourism route, by promoting shared interests and common heritage.
The two other Irish Global Geoparks, The Burren Geopark in Clare and Marble Arch Caves Geopark in Cavan/Fermanagh, will also be partners in this project along with partners from France, Spain, the UK and Portugal.
The Atlantic Geoparks project will look at promotional opportunities, networking and innovative IT projects which can be used to boost tourist numbers in a sustainable number across the project area.
Once developed, this should prove to be a powerful marketing tool.
The Geopark is also aiming to create geological and mining heritage interpretation material for the Greenway in 2018.
They have secured increased funding from GSI (Geological SurveyIreland) for Greenway related interpretation linking to the Geopark.
This involves the development of Greenway interpretation cycle trailswhich the Centre is working on with new Waterford City & County Council Trails Officer Johnny Brunnock.
The Geopark is working to develop an ‘on road’ heritage cycle trail involving the Greenway and the village of Stradbally.
This will consist of a sign posted trail with interpretation boards and a map involving the mining and geological heritage of the Geopark and the Greenway.
This project is in the early stages and a community consultation will be taking place.
This news was warmly welcomed by the Stradbally representatives in attendance at last week’s meeting who are keen to see the village benefit from the success of the Greenway which is located so close to them.
Chairperson ofStradbally Tidy Towns Joe Curran explained that many Greenway users are already coming off the Greenway and into Stradbally.
However, a lack of bicycle facilities is proving to be a hindrance.
“Some visitors have bicycles which are worth €1,000-€2,000 so they want somewhere safe to leave them,” said Joe.
Margo Crowley explained that a suitable area for the installation of such stands has already been identified.
She outlined how Stradbally Tidy Towns are already busily planning their activities for 2018 which will see the Tidy Towns competition celebrate 60 years.
The Stradbally group are always high achievers in the Tidy Towns competition and have also enjoyed success in the Entente Florale competition.
The group, which took home a well-earned silver medal from this year’s competition, hope to clear a site near the soccer club as part of their major project for next year.
The possibility of developing a trail from the Greenway to Stradballyalso opens up the possibility of extending a trail along the Copper Coast and into Tramore.
If the Greenway eventually links withTramore from the city side, this means there could potentially be a Greenway loop.
Crucially, Tramore is also represented as part of the Copper Coast Forum.
Anne Harpur, Chairperson and Director of Tramore Development Trust, who was in attendance at last week’s meeting said she is delighted that Tramore is represented and looks forward to briefing the other communities on activities taking place in the town.
Stan Flynn from Fenor outlined work which has taken place within his own local community.
Fenorhas an impressive array of accomplishments for a relatively small community.
These include the impressive bog, playpark, and the ongoing efforts of the Tidy Towns.
Stan highlighted how locals were proactive and planned ahead for future developments.
He said this forward planning is now reaping dividends.
“If you can produce the right product, funders will come in behind community groups,” he said.
Seamus Goggin of Dunhill Rural Enterprises Ltd. and Communities Creating Jobs (CCJ) said the Fenor example perfectly encapsulates what small local communities must strive to do.
“We keep talking about identifying our assets and that’s exactly what Fenordid. They saw potential with an area of land and developed an opportunity,” he said.
“We must continue to see the opportunities within our assets. It’s about spreading the tentacles and joined up thinking.”
Declan Mulhearne from the Comeragh Community Development Group (CCDG) outlined the ongoing work which is being carried out by this hardworking and enthusiastic group.
Crough Wood, which was developed by the CCDG, is a beautiful retreat of tranquillity nestled beneath the Comeragh Mountains.
Drivers en route to the famous Mahon Falls may inadvertently ignore the beautiful walk which makes its way through this scenic wood.
Located just past Mahon Bridge, the walk was officially opened in 2007 and since then has been used extensively by both locals and visitors alike all year round.
In a great example of community collaboration, any maintenance work is carried out by volunteers from the local community.
Declan says the wood has become a favourite location for many artists and photographers.
“Since opening to the general public, photos of the River Mahon taken from the walk have appeared in magazines all over the world. It seems to be a haven for artists and photographers who spend hours wandering around the place. Many schools from the county and beyond visit the area and use the wood as a nature walk,” he explained.
A project is currently underway to extend the walkway to the Mahon Falls.
It’s also hoped to construct an extension to Mahon Bridge and to eventually provide a link with the Waterford Greenway.
Declan described this as a “major project” and believes being part of the Copper Coast Forum and collaborating and engaging with other local communities can reap dividends.
He outlined how the CCDG are a small group with very good ideas but need assistance with certain tasks such as sourcing relevant funding.
He believes there are funds currently available which “we’re not even aware of”.
Senan Cooke of Dunhill Rural Enterprises Ltd. who is also Chairman of Communities Creating Jobs (CCJ), has extensive experience and a huge passion for everything community related.
Speaking at last week’s meeting, he highlighted the need for unity and cohesion through the Forum and how best to engage with Waterford City & County Council.
He said he is delighted that areas which surround the Copper Coast Geopark are participating as part of the Copper Coast Forum.
“Kilrossanty wasn’t even on our radar until recently,” he said.
Kilmacthomas is also incorporated into the Copper Coast Forum.
The picturesque village has been transformed thanks to the success of the Waterford Greenway and certainly proves that rural communities can make significant strides when people work together for the common good.
With so much enthusiasm and positivity, we’re sure to hear more about these Copper Coast communities and of the Copper Coast Forum in 2018.