Blue Flag beach awards reach record
The number of Irish beaches securing coveted Blue Flag status has hit an all-time high.
A record 84 awards have been handed out this year with Mayo and Kerry home to the most top-class strands and swimming spots, with 13 each.
An Taisce, Ireland's national trust, said there were eight more flags given for 2011 although two popular beaches continued to suffer under the stringent checks - Dollymount, north Dublin and Mullaghmore, Sligo.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan announced the winners on the Blue Flag Curracloe beach in Co Wexford. He said: "Behind each of the 84 recipients lies a team of people who worked extremely hard to make the grade and to each and every one of them I extend my sincere congratulations.
"This increase is very welcome and is due to the combined efforts of the local authorities and coastal communities on the ground as well as those in the wider catchment who are playing their part in working to improve water quality."
The new arrivals on the Blue Flag list included Brittas Bay South in Wicklow, Traught beach at Kinvara and Ceibh an Spideal in Galway, Ross beach near Killala and Old Head in Mayo, all of which lost their flags in 2010.
Tramore in Waterford, Portrane in Fingal, Youghal Front Strand in Cork and Enniscrone in Sligo were also new to the awards. Two marinas were also successful - In Westmeath, the Killinure Point Marina, Glasson on the inner lakes of Lough Ree on the Shannon, and in Wexford, the Kilmore Quay Marina.
The two popular Dollymount strands in north Dublin lost out because after stringent water quality checks, and Mullaghmore was punished because there is no lifeguard post this year and cattle continue to roam on to the main beach.
An Taisce also issued Green Coast awards to beaches which lack the infrastructure for a Blue Flag but are recognised for their outstanding beauty and water quality. The number jumped from 46 to 58 in the last year.
Blue Flag status is granted after 32 criteria from water quality, management, safety and environmental education are assessed. Visit www.beachawards.ie for a map showing all the award-winning beaches with descriptions, directions, facilities and pictures.