Wild West could be eco-tourism 'goldmine'June 15, 2012 - 7:00am
The West is sitting on a goldmine,” says walker, writer and environmental biologist Kevin Corcoran whose latest edition of West of Ireland Walks has just been published by Dublin’s O’Brien Press.
The wilderness that lies west of Galway City has the potential to generate revenue through eco tourism, according to a man who spends his life enjoying the great outdoors in all weather condition.
West of Ireland Walks gives details on 14 walks in the West, which range from the easy to the challenging. These include Mount Gable, Killary Harbour and the Maumturk Mountains in Galway, Cong in Mayo and Black Head in Clare.
The guide is designed to introduce people to walking in the West of Ireland’s wilderness in as safe a manner as possible, explains the author, who has had a long-time ‘grá’ for Galway.
“I’ve been travelling up to the West of Ireland all my life and it’s like my second home,” says Kevin, who lives in Cork and whose other books in the series include West Cork Walks and Kerry Walks.
His passion for the West started as a teenager “when we’d go to Doolin and the Burren. Gradually we expanded our horizons, when we saw mountains further away and wanted to explore them”.
Kevin spent a period in Galway 20 years ago when he was researching the first edition of this book, which was published in 1993.
“I eventually knew Galway better than I knew Cork City and it was a beautiful city – the heart of it still is,” he says.
And for him, the walks to the west of Galway city are unsurpassable.
“In a city like Cork you go west, but Galway is even greater for wilderness.”
In his books, which Kevin has also illustrated, he set out to explain about nature in a way that hadn’t been done before. History and politics traditionally had been well documented, but the flora and fauna of Ireland’s wild areas weren’t as extensively covered, he points out.
“Sharing that information is what makes walking more enjoyable,” he says of his work. And the more people know about their environment when walking, the more they will enjoy it.
Kevin describes walking in Ireland’s wild places as “an all-encompassing experience – physical, mental, personal and emotional”, but says this country has an advantage because most of our mountains are accessible to people who are reasonably fit.
Hillwalking in Ireland is not a complicated pastime, he says.
“There are no serious mountains that are beyond the ability of fit people.”
While there are several challenging walks in the book, he has also included a few simple trails on the basis that, if people are able to cope with them, they could advance to the more difficult ones, right up to the ones where “you really need to know what you are doing”.
The simple ones are ideal for families and are designed “to make it possible for strangers or people with small kids to start off”.
Each of the three books in the series has taken a year and a half of intensive work to complete.
“That would be seven days a week, researching, climbing and going back checking things. And I’d ask my friends to be guinea pigs, letting them off on their own to see how they got on with the books.”
Not surprisingly, given the amount of work he puts into researching, illustrating and writing the books, Kevin says the reward for him is not just about money.
“It’s about getting out and getting an opportunity to share the knowledge. If you are into the environment, the more people you get into it, the more people will protect it. The more people who are interested, the less environmental problems we will have.”
Regular walkers don’t leave a mess behind them, he says, and that’s because they are aware of the value of the environment. And if there’s one thing the West of Ireland environment has plenty of, it’s rain! But Kevin doesn’t buy into the belief that there’s too much rain in the West.
“You go off hiking all over the world in all kinds of weather. Other places get rain too. You just get the gear for it. I remember when I started off, it was really hard to get good gear and good boots. Now the gear is really effective.”
Many of his friends and colleagues who are regular hillwalkers spend up of €1,000 a year on the pastime, he says, and that kind of spend is important for tourism.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.