The owner of the world-famous Blarney Stone is urging the new Government to continue supports for the tourism sector over the coming months as he reopened the landmark visitor attraction to the public.
Charles Colthurst said that given the collapse in the international tourism market, those running attractions which rely on overseas visitors to pay their way have effectively kissed this season goodbye: “There are some very difficult times ahead in the tourism industry but hopefully this is the start of our journey over the coming years to try and grow our visitor numbers back to similar levels before the Covid situation. But it's going to be a long haul."
The famous landmark near Cork city has welcomed between 400,000 and 460,000 visitors almost every year for the last decade to kiss the 600-year-old stone atop its ramparts which legend says bestows the gift of the gab.
This time last year, about 2,000 people, most of them overseas visitors, visited daily to kiss the stone.
By mid-afternoon yesterday, about 50 people had visited, and of those, just 10 kissed the stone which is now being sanitised after every kiss as part of new health and safety protocols.
“We believe this is a significant introduction of measures to help make this 600-year-old tradition as safe as possible,” Mr Colthurst said.
The castle and its gardens closed to the public from March 13 — the first time in its history that the historic tradition of kissing the stone was stopped.
Mr Colthurst said they have been working with environmental company, Enva, in recent weeks to introduce the new protocols, which will see the stone spray cleaned after every kiss with a World Health Organisation-approved anti-bacterial and anti-virus cleanser, and being allowed to dry for a minute before it can be kissed again.
The keeper of the stone will wear gloves and will be subjected to a temperature check before work every day.
The mat people lie on, and the bars they hold onto as they kiss the stone, will also be cleaned after every person.
Several hand sanitiser stations have been installed and staff will spray clean the public areas regularly.
Mr Colthurst said: “We’ve lost four months already and we have just two months of peak season left.
"But we have no idea what’s going to happen to the aviation industry, with EU visitors, with the cruise ships, with the US market or with coach operators.
"Some places just won’t have enough overseas visitors to make an attraction pay its way.
"The Government supports needs to continue until the reopening of tourism as we knew it."
“If any sector needs to looked after, it’s the tourism industry.”