An evaluation team from UNESCO today (Monday, 26 June 2023) concluded a five-day visit to County Clare as part of a revalidation process for the Burren and Cliffs of Moher’s designation as a UNESCO Global Geopark.
Headed by Dr. Babis Fassoulas of the University of Crete and Adina Popa of Hațeg Country UNESCO Global Geopark in Romania, the review team met with representatives of Clare County Council and the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark, and local business and community representatives during their revalidation visit, which takes place every four years.
Led by Clare County Council, the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark first achieved Global Geopark status in 2011 before the designation was fully incorporated by UNESCO in 2015 to become a UNESCO Global Geopark. Geopark status was retained following a similar revalidation visit in 2019, and officials are hoping that the Geopark will once again be successful this year.
Through its designation, the Burren and Cliffs of Moher region forms part of a global community of 195 UNESCO Global Geoparks in 48 countries that shares knowledge and expertise on heritage management and sustainable development, leading to well-managed protected landscapes with preserved local heritage. More than 1,300 jobs are sustained by businesses in the Burren Ecotourism Network, partners of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark, while many more are directly dependent on the sustainability of employment in other sectors that are related to tourism.
Cllr. Tony O’Brien, Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council, said the Geopark plays a key role in ensuring tourism development across the Burren is delivered in a sustainable manner.
“The need to protect the Burren and to promote a prosperous local economy is a balancing act that requires the commitment and participation of many State Agencies working with the Geopark team and Clare County Council, the local business sector, wider community and other agencies at local and national level,” he explained. “The designation of UNESCO Global Geopark status has been a hugely positive development for the region and the people who live and visit there, and I am confident the visiting UNESCO delegation will conclude that the Burren and Cliffs of Moher is a shining example within the Geopark network.”
“Sustainability is at the heart of everything that the team at the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark has been working to achieve in recent years,” explained Pat Dowling, Chief Executive of Clare County Council. “These efforts have been recognised locally, national and internationally, and Clare County Council is delighted to be able to support the Geopark and the wider community in promoting the sustainable management of this important and geologically significant region. Retaining UNESCO Global Geopark status is a key objective of Clare County Council and is a key cog of the County Clare Tourism Strategy 2030.”
Carol Gleeson, Manager of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark, commented, “UNESCO Global Geopark status is more than a designation, it is membership of a worldwide network where knowledge sharing on heritage management and sustainable development takes a central role. This designation has acted as a catalyst for working towards sustainable, community-based tourism development of the Burren, using the already successful UNESCO brand as a mechanism for sharing these wonderful landscapes with the world.”
“We want to sincerely thank everyone who showcased the region during the visit by the UNESCO revalidation team. Many local people are rightly proud of the UNESCO Global Geopark designation and are committed to playing a role in fulfilling our obligations under the UNESCO criteria, as well as continuing to engage with the longstanding partnership approach to balancing tourism and conservation in the Geopark,” added Ms. Gleeson.
According to Leonard Cleary, Director of Tourism Development and West Clare Municipal District, “Clare County Council has been working in partnership and collaboration with other agencies in Burren since 2006 to develop a truly sustainable tourism destination that gives direct benefits to the local community. Securing UNESCO designation in 2015 has had a positive impact on the region from a social, environmental and economic perspective, and we look forward to the outcome of this revalidation process”.
He added, “The Burren & Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark is at the forefront of developing new tourism products and initiatives that are very much in keeping with the sustainable tourism objectives of the County Clare Tourism Strategy 2030 and the forthcoming Cliffs of Moher Strategy 2040”.
Deirdre O’Shea, Head of Tourism with Clare County Council, said, “An approach centred on fostering good working relationships with the local community and throughout the Burren has established the Burren as the thriving, sustainable destination we know of today.”
She continued, “The Geopark team, working with the Burren Ecotourism Network and communities across the region, has been successful in attracting tourists who get a real sense of the deep-rooted heritage, traditions and produce of the Burren, and who stay longer and spend more quality time during their visit. The Geopark really is an exemplar of what can be achieved, with the support of Clare County Council and other agencies, under the UNESCO Global Geopark initiative.”
“Educating the wider public about the unique landscape of the Burren is key to ensuring its future protection,” stated Dr. Eamon Doyle, Geologist for the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark.
“The story of the Burren and its world-famous limestone pavement dates back more than 330 million years, 100 million years before the appearance of the first dinosaurs,” he explained. “The Geopark attracts geologists from all over the world who come to study its fascinating rock types, ancient fossils, past environments, and surface features. I was delighted to be able to outline to the UNESCO team the Geopark’s work in increasing public awareness of this unique landscape, including our collaboration with the Burren Outdoor Education Training Centre to bring the Burren’s fascinating geology to a wider audience through a series of evening courses. The Geoparks also works with schools across the Burren to promote awareness for younger generations about the wonderful geological legacy we have here on our doorstep.”
The UNESCO delegation’s visit to County Clare visit commenced on Thursday evening with a presentation by the Geopark team in Ennistymon on the various developments since the last revalidation mission in 2019, followed on Friday morning with a presentation by management of The Falls Hotel on their engagement with the Geopark Code of Practice for Sustainable Tourism, which provides a model for businesses within the region to come together to build a sustainable tourism offering.
The visiting group then travelled to Áras Contae an Chláir to meet with the Cathaoirleach and executive of Clare County Council, North Clare’s Elected Members and representatives of State Agency partners, namely the Geological Survey of Ireland, Fáilte Ireland, National Parks and Wildlife Services, Office of Public Works and the Rural Recreation Scheme. The delegation later travelled to Corofin to be guided on future plans, view the National Park Centre and visit the new Geosite at Lough Inchiquin, before taking in the Burren Drive through the National Park via the Geosites at Fahee North, Carran Turlough and Poulacarran. They concluded their Friday itinerary in Lisdoonvarna with a meeting with local historians, researchers from NUIG, businesses and representatives of Lisdoonvarna Fáilte.
Kilfenora marked the beginning of a busy itinerary on Saturday with the UNESCO team visiting the new exhibition at the Burren Centre Kilfenora, and meeting with local guides about the Geopark training programme and with community representatives to hear about a new heritage trail and Geopark signage. They also met representatives of the North Clare Communities Group and then travelled to the Michael Cusack Centre in Carron for the official unveiling by former President of Ireland Mary McAleese of a bronze bust of the GAA founder followed by a tour of Caherconnell Stone Fort, Poulnabrone, Aillwee Cave and Newtown Castle. The day concluded with a meeting with Board members of the Burren Ecotourism Network (BEN) in Ballyvaughan.
On Sunday, the UNESCO team met with local businesses and community representatives at Doolin Pier, visited Doolin Cave and Corcomroe Abbey, received a presentation from management at the Cliffs of Moher Experience on the Cliffs of Moher Strategy 2040, and undertook the coastal drive incorporating the limestone sea cliff at Ailladie, Fanore Beach, the Wild Atlantic Way viewing point at Murrooghtoohy, and various local Geosites and trails. Throughout their visit they also met with several of the Geopark’s GEOfood producers and sampled their food produced within and around the Geopark. The day ended with a GEOfood meal at Linnane’s Lobster Bar in New Quay.
The five-day review concluded today (Monday) with a mission review with the Geopark team and Clare County Council’s Head of Tourism.
A decision on the redesignation of UNESCO Global Geopark status for the Burren and Cliffs of Moher is expected later this year.