Sheeps Head Way Eden Award truly a community achievement
The Sheep's Head - a peaceful, unspoilt peninsula, which has some of Ireland's most beautiful scenery - was presented with the 2009 European Destination of Excellence Award on Monday.
Dr. Martin Mansergh, the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism, was the ideal choice to present the award because his family holidayed in West Cork every year in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
With a decidedly light, but nevertheless sincere, touch the minister did a good impression of the Sue Townshend's "Adrian Mole" when he read from his diary about time spent in West Cork, particularly on the Sheep's Head Peninsula.
The minister was heartfelt in congratulating the Sheep's Head Way Committee, the local authority and all the members of the community for the outstanding way they have developed tourism in the locality.
Speaking at a ceremony and celebratory lunch for more than one hundred people at the Westlodge Hotel in Bantry, the minister said: "You deserve to celebrate, and I am very glad to be here to join you, as this place has very happy holiday memories for me."
This year marks the third phase of the European Destinations of Excellence Competition, which was established by the European Union - in conjunction with Fáilte Ireland - to highlight diversity and shared characteristics of European tourist destinations.
The award gives special recognition to places that safeguards protected areas. As the winner of Waterford Crystal Walker Award, the Sheep's Head Way has become hugely popular with people looking to enjoy activity holidays.
But that project would not have been possible without the inspiration of Jim Leonard and the late Tom Whitty, the people of Muintir Bháire, and the landowners who allowed their property to be used for a 120 km route that has also been chosen as The Best Walk in Ireland by the Country Walking Magazine.
The chairperson of Sheep's Head Way Ltd., Mr. Gerard Burke claimed the prestigious prize saying: "The Eden Award is truly a community achievement."
He said the criteria for the competition was the provision of "a destination where a viable tourism project has been developed using the protected area as an asset while protecting the special environment and meeting the needs of the visitors and the local residents."
Mr. Burke said: "We don't talk that way in the Sheep's Head. We prefer to say that we are doing the best we can with what we have for ourselves, for our children and for our visitors.
"As a community it has taken us a fair amount of time to arrive at this point and we will continue to hold this peninsula in sacred trust for the living, and for those who come after us."
"Along the way," he said, "we have had tremendous support from national and regional bodies such as Minister Ó Cuív, Senator Denis O'Donovan, the Irish Farmer's Association, the National Trails Office, Cork County Council, West Cork Leader, FÁS, the RSS and Fáilte Ireland.
Translating a curse, or prophecy, that was placed on the Sheep's Head Peninsula and on the Bardic poet of Kilcrohane, Aengus Ó Dálaigh, after he wrote a satirical poem about the tribes of Ireland 400 years ago, Mr. Burke said:
"Aengus is tormented deep in clay his fate deserved for greed of gold The curse will stay on Farranmanagh Till Eden comes to Muintir Bháire." To much good-humoured applause, Mr. Burke said: "Today the curse is lifted! The prophecy is fulfilled! After 400 years, Eden has finally come to the Sheep's Head!"
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