Last week the Achill Experience added a digital dimension to its cultural and historical attractions with the release of the Offline Tourist Tablet. Gerry Quinn, president of the Mayo Cleveland Association, who officially launched the Offline Tourist Tablet, said he “could not believe the transformation in the space of a year” and that he believes the plans for the future of the Achill Experience are “phenomenal."
Senator Rose Conway Walsh spoke passionately at the launch of her experiences of tourism information in Achill and about the importance of both the tourist tablet and facility to the island. She said: “This is a journey and it’s a privilege for me to be part of this journey from concept stage to launch of the Achill Experience, to today with the launch of the tourist tablet as well.”
The Achill Experience offers a unique glimpse into life on Ireland’s largest island, based in the all-weather visitor centre which was opened in April. It includes Mayo’s first aquarium, featuring two themed salt water tanks and an open touch tank, so visitors can fully engage and interact with the local sea life. It also features a re-built deserted village boley house common to Achill throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, allowing visitors to step back in time to the famine era. Additionally there are displays and storyboards containing local information about Achill’s rich cultural history like the practice of “booleying”.
The Achill Experience would not be where it is today without a few key characters, such as Tom Honeyman the retired policeman who is now a self titled "aquarist" who offers each and every visitor his local knowledge about all the different types of fish in the newly opened aquarium. Honeyman says his favourite part of the Achill Experience is "meeting the public and giving them an insight into our varied marine life". He warns, “watch out for the scallops, you might get a little surprise.”
Gerry Hassett is also essential to the success of the Achill Experience, as he delivers a variety of local marine life to the aquarium and also advises on how to maintain the fish to keep them happy and healthy. Hassett has worked in the maritime field since childhood and has “built up knowledge about the sea and fish over the years”.
Another character who has contributed to the advancement of the Achill Experience is local historian, Tommy Boley McNamara. His family represents the strong links between Achill and Cleveland, as both his parents were born in Achill but emigrated to Cleveland to live the American dream, like many others did in the area. However the call from home was too strong, and the family came back to Achill. Since his return, McNamara has owned a hugely successful restaurant called the Booley House in Achill and has been part of many community initiatives including the Achill Experience. The response to Mayo’s first aquarium has been overwhelmingly positive, and McNamara believes, “It has been really good for the community, the great thing is how many Achill locals have visited and loved it, so it’s been really encouraging so far. It’s only the beginning of the Achill Experience initiative.”
And the Achill Experience is already expanding. The Offline Tourist Tablets offer a digital, self-guided, tour of the island allowing visitors to explore the history and beauty of Achill at their own pace. Best of all, no internet connection is required. The user-friendly tablets are preloaded with information on the various sights and focal points of the Achill Parish and are available from the Achill Experience visitor centre in Crumpaun. Visitors to the island can pick up a tablet and learn about Achill’s history from detailed, local accounts, and when they’re finished, simply drop the tablet back.
The release of the Offline Tourist Tablet has been made possible by the software expertise of Stubborn Goats Creative Services and funding from Údarás na Gaeltachta, and completes the first phase of the Achill Experience initiative. Terence Dever, CEO of Comhlacht Forbartha Áitiúil Acla (CFÁA ) strives for constant improvement of the device and welcomes feedback on it from “visitors and locals alike”, knowing in the future “there will be aspects of the stories that will evolve and there will be new stories.” The Offline Tourist Tablet promises to be an important addition to the tourist attractions of the area, allowing Achill's cultural heritage to be shared with a wider audience than ever before.
The Achill Experience Visitor Centre is open from 10am to 5pm every day, and can be found in the Achill Local Development Company (CFAA ) building in Crumpaun, Keel, Achill. Bookings can be made on (098 ) 43292, or by contacting [email protected].