More than 300km of new mountain biking trails are to be delivered in seven counties in a bid to establish Ireland as one of the world's top destinations for the sport.
A €13.6 million funding package was announced as part of the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund. It is estimated that significant investment in the sector will generate as many as three million visitors in the next ten years.
The international mountain biking (MTB) proposition comprises four national trail centres across seven counties and over 300kms of trails at these centres. They will be located in Ballyhoura (Limerick/Cork), Coolaney (Sligo), Slieve Blooms (Offaly/ Laois) and Ticknock & Ballinastoe (Dublin/Wicklow).
According to Fáilte Ireland’s economic impact report, the development of the trail centres could see visitors generating spend of more than €22 million per annum when completed.
As the centres are located in rural and some remote areas, this impact will be felt where there are few other economic drivers.
There are an estimated 20 communities around the country which will see new and increased visitor numbers in their area.
The project will be delivered over a three-year period and each site or additional trail development will be opened to the public as it is completed.
Coillte, Ireland's largest commercial forestry company, welcomed the announcement, which was made by Michael Ring, Minister for Rural and Community Development and Heather Humphreys, Minister for Business, Enterprise, and Innovation at an event in Castleblaney, Co. Monaghan.
Deborah Meghen, director of stewardship for Coillte, said: "We want to continue to work with the best service providers to create outstanding destinations for mountain bikers.
"Investment has been made in the past by project partners in mountain biking across Ireland, but never to the scale needed to elevate this to an international proposition.
The funding was announced as part of the second phase of the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund.
In all, €62 million was announced this week, bringing the total announced to date to €86 million. 84 projects are to benefit.
This week's announcement included the development of a new regeneration project for Thomastown, Kilkenny, the development of a major tourism at the site of Granard Motte and the allocation of €1.1 million for recreational and commercial facilities in Banteer, including an astro-turf pitch, café and shop.
However, Cork County Mayor Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy was unhappy with the total allocated to the county.
“Cork County Council submitted 48 high quality measured applications, significantly more than any other organisation, €37 million in total in projects. This announcement related to projects valued at €62 million. We were successful with one single application, valued at €276,000. While I acknowledge Kinsale Library received over €2 million at the first round announcement last year, this round is hugely disproportionate, particularly when you realise that as a Local Authority, Cork County Council covers a population that is almost 10% of the entire country."