Discover Ireland’s new tourism campaign Keep Discovering is tempting us to unearth new treasures at home this spring.
Fancy escaping the crowds (should there be any) this St Patrick’s week? It offers some staycation inspo for you to savour the island.
Think of an animal going viral and it’s typically a goat doing yoga. But times have changed. As the outbreak of the coronavirus looms across our planet, its origins have been somewhat overshadowed by its very magnitude.
On a routine day in Wuhan’s now-infamous Huanan seafood market, a critically endangered animal you’ve probably never heard of triggered a global disruption of Hollywood proportions. And it’s all prompted the simple question: Could wildlife conservation be a keystone in preventing future virus outbreaks?
Native to both Africa and Asia, the pangolin (rhymes with mandolin) is a curious anteater-like creature which has never experienced the same PR limelight as the similarly threatened tiger or rhino. After once rescuing one from a market, David Attenborough referred to the pangolin as one of the most endearing animals he’d ever encountered. But its highly sought-after meat and scales have given it the ominous distinction as the most widely trafficked mammal in the world.
It’s that very demand which journeyed a pangolin to those market stalls of Wuhan, and, in perhaps the most unprecedented chain-reaction of our time, a brush-up with an infected animal means the world is facing a pandemic, the tourism industry is in turmoil, and sadly neither you, nor I, will be travelling to Lake Garda any time soon.
China has reacted swiftly to the virus. The country ordered an immediate ban on wildlife trade, gifting a welcome, if fragile silver lining to conservation and the pangolin’s fate. But as biodiversity proves a burden to many across the world, we, as tourists, need to also play our part to promote it.
The illegal animal trade is worth €18bn per year, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, with wildlife attractions, from dubious elephant sanctuaries to tiger temples, becoming box office attractions with travellers — all largely driven by social media.
Our trending obsession with exotic animals has even seen Instagram introduce a pop-up block, where users searching for the likes of #slothselfie or #tigerselfie now receive a Protect Wildlife warning, suggesting the hashtag may be associated with harmful behaviour to the environment. It’s a scant measure but one which may encourage people to second-guess their actions.
If the coronavirus can teach us anything (beyond hand-washing techniques), it’s that wildlife conservation is much more valuable to global sustainability than our consumption of it — be it for food or social media fodder. Championing that message is down to all of us when we travel, so we don’t encounter furthers incidents of nature biting back.
Pangolin lives matter. And yes, you can even buy the t-shirt.
One of the emerging travel trends this year is dark skies tourism — venturing off to the great wilds to discover unfiltered starry nights. With one of Europe’s lowest population densities, Ireland has astronomical potential to become a leader in the niche, with Kerry already home to its own dark-sky reserve in Ballinskelligs.
For a guided viewing, hook up with Kerry Dark Sky Tourism who offers sessions from €15.
Now’s the week to add a little polish to your cúpla focail. Seachtain na Gaeilge (which actually runs for a fortnight) has pop-up events throughout the country (snag.ie) or what better way to embrace your Celtic roots than enjoying a Gaeltacht getaway?
I love the very cairdiúil Carna Bay Hotel in Connemara who offer homely B&B stays from €50pps per night (carnabayhotel.ie).
Can’t make Boston this year?
A trip to Cape Clear will get you as close as you can get. Once on the island enjoy the unspoiled hiking, birding, and pub-life and experience what is claimed to be the smallest St Patrick’s Day parade in Ireland (three floats at last count).
If you’ve visited the Cliffs of Moher and fancy taking your cliff experience to new heights, then head north to Slieve League, the highest cliffs in the land. Come evening, hunker down in the Slieve League Lodge in Carrick village, who offer self-catering B&B and hostel accommodation above its excellent pub.
Rates from €25pps.