Tourism Minister Paschal Donohue made the claim at the launch yesterday of Ireland’s Ancient East initiative yesterday, despite admitting no budget has been set aside for the high-profile project.
Under new plans unveiled at a major international tourism expo at the RDS in Dublin, landmarks from the Boyne Valley in the north east to Kilkenny, Waterford, and East Cork in the south east will be repackaged to entice foreign and domestic visitors.
The sites will be split into four separate groups —Ancient Ireland, Early Christian Ireland, Medieval Ireland, and Anglo Ireland — to give tourists a better understanding of how the periods of the Vikings, the Normans, monks, elite country homes and rebellion are interlinked.
No budget has yet been outlined for the initiative, which is targeting tourists over the age of 30 who have an interest in culture and history and is expected to begin in summer 2016 and which government believes could mirror the success of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Mr Donohue said that he believes the rebranding of existing sites into linked groups could help increase tourism numbers to the region by 600,000, or 20%, by the end of the decade, helping to bring an extra €950m to economies in the south and east.
While 20% of tourists who come to Ireland travel through the south and east, just 10% of tourism income is based in the two regions.
Mr Donohue said this is why it is essential that communities get behind the new measures and endorse planned initiatives such as an app to give tourists “geo-location” updates on what sites are nearby, helping to ensure the areas shake off suggestions of being transit zones for visitors.
“The market research tells us there is potentially a lot more growth out there if we pitch our best assets to those segments with the most potential. With the great amount of history and heritage in such a relatively compact area, Ireland’s Ancient East will allow us to seriously build on the assets we have in the east and south, and the significant investment which has been made in tourism attractions in the region over the last few years.
“While appealing to a different type of a visitor, I am confident that Ireland’s Ancient East will prove as effective and popular as the Wild Atlantic Way and will, when brought to the overseas markets by Tourism Ireland and the tourism trade, deliver significant additional numbers of visitors, revenue and jobs to the region,” he said.
The tourism campaign was outlined by Mr Donohue and Minister of State Michael Ring during the first day of Meitheal, which connects 500 Irish tourism businesses directly with 277 world leaders in the sector.
A key part of the economy remains linked to tourism, with Fáilte Ireland and the Government keen to spread the strength of the sector to all parts of the country.
Ireland’s 5,000 year heritage in focus
The Ireland’s Ancient East project will attempt to repackage tourism sites into four distinct groups, with the aim of showcasing the country’s diverse 5,000-year-old heritage and increasing regional tourism income by €950m by 2020:
The first of the four hubs is centred around west and north Leinster and focuses on sites “older than the pyramids”.
Among the attractions are passage tombs in Knowth; Stone Age observatories near Newgrange and the Hill of Tara; some of the largest concentrations of Celtic gold artifacts in western Europe, and the Irish national heritage park near Slaney Valley.
The second set of attractions will ask tourists to “step into the golden age of saints and scholars” by touring ancient monasteries and universities where monks wrote some of Ireland’s best known cultural manuscripts, helping to bring enlightenment to a Europe locked in the Dark Ages.
They include Clonmacnoise; the Hill of Slane where St Patrick built his bonfire; and Glendalough, with events also planned at round towers and monk’s cells to underline the austerity that scholars faced in their daily lives.
Kilkenny and Waterford will be rebranded as Ireland’s de facto medieval quarter to showcase the region’s “rich tapestry of tales” from the turbulent Viking invasions.
Among the locations will be the Viking Triangle in Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city, fortresses and castles, the Rock of Cashel and music, theatre and local festivals.
The final stage of the four-part history tour will focus on life during the 18th and 19th centuries, a time when the vast majority were forced into poverty as the elite lived in opulent houses a world apart from their fellow countrymen. Tourists will be encouraged to visit Powerscourt, Avondale, Russborough House, the Dunbrody Famine Ship, Wicklow Gaol and the sites of attempted rebellions.