How 'Normal People' gave Sligo a tourism boost

And last-minute love breaks to book when lockdown is over
How 'Normal People' gave Sligo a tourism boost

Daisy Edgar-Jones as Marianne and Paul Mescal as Connell in the BBC Three adaptation of Sally Rooney's Normal People.

Sligo is feeling the love! The cornerstone county of Ireland’s northwest may be traditionally overshadowed by its Atlantic neighbours, but this weather it’s on the cusp of a PR wave. Last year it enjoyed a so-called 'screen tourism' bounce thanks to the shooting of the tv adaptation of Normal People in the county, while just last week Leo Varadkar’s revelation that he and his partner would be spending their summer holiday in Sligo could do for Tubbercurry what Barack Obama did for Martha’s Vineyard. 

Follow that with news that Sligo is bidding for Unesco status for some of its most ancient burial sites and the region could be poised for further global stardom. Sligo is go!

“I think Sligo has always been evolving as a staycation destination,” Anthony Gray, the newly appointed chair of Sligo Tourism, tells me this week. “What we have, we have in abundance; from local produce experienced on our Sligo food trails to our literary heritage in Yeats Country to our exceptional coastline via the Wild Atlantic Way.” 

It’s that short but sweeping stretch of coastline that has really resonated in recent years with the vibrant surfing market; the county’s beaches appear like scenes from a Fáilte Ireland commercial during any given summer swelter.

“We call them the great escapers,” Anthony says. “They’re the young, vibrant demographic which have stamped Sligo as what I would call the adventure tourism capital of the northwest.” 

 Benbulben, Sligo
Benbulben, Sligo

That niche is poised to only strengthen with current pandemic holiday trends. 

“We’ve already a culture of great outdoor activities and now, if you even look at Sligo town, restaurants are starting to offer outdoor dining all along the beautiful Garravogue river.

“From eating fresh lobster from Mullaghmore to walking on Third Beach at Rosses Point under the head of Benbulben — as you think of Yeats — and I’ll tell you, it would put the hairs on the back of your neck,” he adds.

Last year also brought that “great escape” to Sligo on the back of tourists tracing the footsteps of the now household names of Marianne and Connell. 

Normal People has been a massive endorsement for Sligo,” Anthony tells me. 

If you think of those stunning images of the northwest being sent across the globe, it was fantastic publicity for the county and definitely created a buzz here.

While an international Normal People boost is anticipated when inbound travel recovers, there has already been a bounce from Irish tourists to filming locations, from Brennan’s pub in Tubbercurry to Streedagh beach. Sligo Tourism now even features a dedicated page on its website listing the locations.

But even more blockbuster developments emerged this week with the news that Sligo’s neolithic burial chambers are now in the (albeit lengthy) bidding process for Unesco status as a world heritage site. The tomb of Queen Maeve, a cairn that sits atop the mountain of Knocknarea, is just one of a network of local sites that could join the likes of Skellig Michael for the kudos-rich accreditation. 

“Along with all our other attractions, when you add in that we have one of the biggest cairns in the world, you can see how we’re punching well above our weight in Sligo for a small county. And you can see why Sligo County Council are getting so strongly on board with this bidding process, given the worldwide audience it would bring,” Anthony adds. 

“We’ve a wave of momentum in the county now — and we’re going to keep it going.”

For more on visiting the county, see sligotourism.ie

Limerick Love

No 1 Pery Square
No 1 Pery Square

One of my favourite Irish hotels, One Pery Square, located in the heart of Georgian Limerick, has come up with a delicious drive-by dining offering for Valentine’s weekend. Chef Keith Piggot has created a romantic three-course menu box, featuring the best of local and Irish producers, with Scibeen smoked salmon, 12hr feather-blade of beef and spiced orange cake just some of the menu’s mouth-watering stars. €35 per person; (061) 402402 oneperysquare.com

Tempting Schull

If you’re a couple of lonely hearts in West Cork, one of the peninsulas’ most popular gastropubs is also putting on a Valentine’s show. The Townhouse O’D’s in Schull is offering romantic spreads to collect, with dishes from Skeaghanore duck wings, monkfish ’n' chips, a sharing cookie and cream for dessert and sparkling bees knees cocktails for toasting! €65 per couple; 028 28692.

Save the Date

The five-star Cliff House Hotel's outdoor hot-tub experience, with baths infused with organic seaweed, peat and ginger, makes a lovely gift for €50.
The five-star Cliff House Hotel's outdoor hot-tub experience, with baths infused with organic seaweed, peat and ginger, makes a lovely gift for €50.

Romantic breaks are out this weekend, but you can still give the gift of a romantic gesture. The Cliff House in Ardmore is offering vouchers that are available to use in the hotel, restaurant and spa. While room rates at the five-star Cliff House may be on the upper end of the price market, the outdoor hot-tub experience, with baths infused with organic seaweed, peat and ginger, makes for a very decent gift for €50. cliffhousehotel.ie

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