President’s Blog January 13, 2020 – Warm Welcomes, Western Winter Walking

Hello Members – It is hard to believe that with the way Mondays fell over the holiday season, four weeks have passed since the last Blog.  And while many of our member firms outside of the hospitality sector have had periods of leave during that time, the Chamber Team has been active on several fronts.

Regular readers of the Blog may recall that last October, I somehow managed to battle my way through injuries and cross the finish line at the Dublin City Marathon.  Sligo Chamber generously offered to sponsor me as President to complete the course.  Over the holiday period, CEO Aidan, Events Manager Mary and myself made arrangements to visit the Sligo Cancer Care Centre on Wine Street to handover a cheque for that sponsorship amount.  We were very warmly greeted and thanked for our gift.  It was a humbling experience as we listened to Board Member John McHugh outline the extent of the voluntary work and the range of care and support being provided to over 1,200 clients and their families.  And all of services being funded directly by the Centre without any financial assistance from the State.  We were a quiet group of three, as we walked back to the Chamber Office on Quay Street, reflecting on the experience, being thankful for our health and with the only regret that we could not have been more generous in our support.

It was an experience of a completely different kind, as myself and CEO Aidan participated in a welcoming ceremony for a visiting delegation from Zhenhai in the Ningbo Province of China.  Located 180km north of Shanghai, Zhenhai has a population of 243,000.  Situated on  Hang Zhan Bay, it is a port city with businesses centred in six sectoral areas, port logistics; petrochemical industry; equipment and manufacturing; textiles and clothing; higher education and the services sector.  The visiting delegates were hosted first by Sligo County Council followed then by IT Sligo.

Sligo Chamber participated at the visit to the Sligo County Council Office at Riverside.  Following an address by Cathaoirleach, Councillor Tom MacSharry and presentations by John Reilly, Head of Enterprise at Sligo County Council and John Neary of Faillte Ireland, it was my turn to present on role of Sligo Chamber in delivering for Sligo.  Although accustomed to speaking in public, this was certainly different and very much a first for me with an interpreter translating my talk for the visiting delegation.  The delegation were interested to hear about the Sligo Chamber Intercultural Awareness National Pilot Programme which we delivered last year in French and German and, in particular, our commitment to deliver this programme in Chinese within the next two years.

In other really good news for Sligo Chamber, the Team learned over the holiday period that Sligo Chamber Skillnet was successful in its application to Skillnet Ireland for funding under the new three year rolling funding programme for the years 2020 to 2022.  This success puts Sligo Chamber Skillnet on a firm foundation, confident in the knowledge that quality training can be provided here in Sligo for the next three years to our member firms.  Great credit is due to Skillnet Manager, Geraldine Courtenay and to CEO Aidan for all their hard work and effort in preparing such a comprehensive submission leading to this successful outcome.  This is a real game changer, as the Sligo Chamber Team no longer have to be concerned about the insecurity and threat posed by having to make an annual submission for funding.  The certainty provided by a three-year rolling programme will allow the Team plan with confidence for the three years ahead.

Tourism is a key pillar of the Sligo Chamber vision for the future development of Sligo.  Over the course of the past year, I have learned to appreciate the importance of naturally available outdoor activities to the tourism sector.  Walking is one such naturally available activity.  And so over the holiday period, I took the opportunity to take extended walks and explore the iconic beauty of some of our hills and coastline, all readily accessible from a Sligo base.  On four consecutive days, I went on 2 hour plus walks on the Coillte tracks at Gortarowey on the side slopes of Benbulben; on the loop of the 10km route from Maugherow Church to Raghly Harbour and back; up Knocknarea around the Ballisodare side; and finally on the fourth day across the vast expanse of Streedagh beach. 

Walks of that length allows time to reflect and take in the splendour of different views of the mountains, the hills, the sea and the green and brown hues of the general countryside.  It affords time to stop and listen to the roaring sound of flocks of birds traversing the vast open fields at Maugherow and enter small derelict old stone cottages and contemplate on what life must have been like in North Sligo a hundred years ago.  And even before that again, what life was like in prehistoric times in the archaeological features, raths and mounds that quite literally were readily visible on each on each of those walking days.  And what really struck me over those four days was the amount of walkers, tourists and locals alike, out enjoying the scenery.  Packed car parks at the base of Knocknarea on both sides of the mountain.  Packed car park at Gortarowey with a line of cars along the steep access approach road.  Packed lines of cars at the back of the beach at Streedagh.  I was reminded of the words of Niall Tracey, Marketing Director of Faillte Ireland speaking at the Chamber Christmas lunch when Niall said “what was good for the tourist was great for the local”.  Certainly so it was over the holiday period with visitor and local walkers alike enjoying the natural beauty of the Sligo countryside and landscape.

Until next time!

Life is for Living – #Life is Sligo.

Conor McCarthy

President Sligo Chamber