An exciting new local development initiative aiming to achieve UNESCO Global Geopark status was launched in January 2020. The Joyce Country and Western Lakes (JCWL) Geopark Project (Tionscadal Gheopháirc Dhúiche Sheoigheach agus Lochanna an Iarthair) is a two-year €1.19 million project to support development of the area surrounding Joyce Country on the Galway-Mayo border and settlements both sides of Loughs Mask, Carra and much of the Corrib.
The region has fabulous beauty, impressive heritage and things to explore and experience but is somewhat overshadowed by other areas and urban centres.
Geoparks are places of internationally important geology which are managed holistically for protection, education, and economic and social development. Importantly, UNESCO Global Geopark status carries no additional legal status or planning restrictions to those already in place by local, national or EU legislation.
UNESCO status will benefit local tourism, boost local jobs and income, and help rural communities to retain populations and prosper. This is achieved through development of food trails, local products and services, promotion of the unique culture and traditions, language, storytelling, etc, ways of living such as hill farming and fishing – the rocks and landforms influence the farming and food and traditions in the area. Most importantly, it will be part of a global network of sites with the internationally respected UNESCO status, with public recognition similar to UNESCO World Heritage.
The project is supported mainly by the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund (part of Project Ireland 2040), with significant financial and in-kind support also from Geological Survey Ireland (lead partner), Údarás na Gaeltachta, Mayo and Galway County Councils, Coillte and a cross-community group JCWL Geoenterprise.
Four project staff have been contracted through public tender – a Geopark Manager (Michael Hegarty), a Geopark Geologist (Benjamin Thébaudeau), Tourism Officer (Dominic Ó Móráin) based in Tourmakeady, while Amrine Dubois Gafar (Project Geologist and Administrator) is based in Geological Survey Ireland in Dublin.
The main activities so far have included: development of a new logo and brand identity; a modern interactive website; training on social media for communities and local businesses; preparing a tender to for training on tour guiding for local entrepreneurs; preparation of orientation and geology maps; development of narrative on geology, landscape, local heritage and culture for the website and future use on panels for sites of interest. All 17 communities in the area have provided feedback, including via physical meetings before the Covid-19 lockdown and subsequently by videoconferencing.