Given the early success of the Wild Atlantic Way in promoting our natural tourism assets, is there an argument to develop a similar template around a concept to promote the Historic Cork Harbour?
That thought was triggered by an event I attended in the remarkable Board Room of the Cork Harbour Commissioners last week. In a venue steeped in history of significance, not just to Ireland but to the global economy, we heard an historian describe the breadth and depth of heritage that exists across the harbour.
Michael Martin explained that traces of a Phoenician presence exist in the harbour, but so too is evidence of Viking and Norman establishment.
Layer on top of that the role the harbour played in the development of the New World economy when trade began between the British Empire and the Americas.
That triggered a surge of shipping activity which made Cork a critically important trading hub.
There is a rich seam of naval activity too, including a major presence by the Royal Navy through its various guises from sailing ships to destroyers.
The US navy used Cork Harbour extensively, and stationed significant resources in the area around the First World War.
It also provided some incredible relief trips during the Irish Famine, when donations were made by communities including Native American, Jewish, and African-American groups.
Add on to all of this the role Cork played in a number of seminal world events, including the sinking of both the Titanic and Lusitania. You soon realise there is a unique tapestry of history that must have a powerful ability to drive tourism.
Against this backdrop, how hard could it be to deploy a Historic Cork Harbour strategy that replicates the Wild Atlantic Way ?
The beauty of the WAW is that it did not demand a huge exchequer spend and it does not take decades to put it in place. Instead, a well-crafted website and social media strategy together with some cleverly planned signage and encouragement of private investment could trigger the needed stimulus.
Start with a high-quality map designed to a specification that works on mobile apps but can also be printed on high quality paper and marks the key points that define the HCH footprint. Cobh alone is festooned with historically significant locations.
Spike Island is loaded with a long history of various invaders.
Haulbowline is stuffed with a rich military back story. In every nook and cranny around the harbour you can find pointers to military, trading and cultural markers that help build a complex but fascinating account of one of the world’s largest deep water ports.
Hook all of this up with the vibrancy that is increasingly evident in Cork City’s café culture and connect the UCC,accommodation and transport resources to present a HCH product that can be marketed to the global tourism industry.
The growing flow of cruise ships visiting the Harbour are an immediate target for such marketing but a broader sweep of the rising worldwide tourism cohort who value history and culture should be focussed on too.
And how might this all happen? I suspect it needs a direction from at least one Government Minister, active support from the authorities within Cork and the full blooded backing of the relevant Tourism Authorities.
How difficult is it to imagine that within one year we could have a HCH product being profiled in the New York Times, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Times of India, and The People’s Daily in China.
It could act as a catalyst to re-positioning HCH to become one of the must-see history rich city-harbour destinations of the world.
Joe Gill is director of corporate Broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.
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