Monday 26 September 2016

A truly awesome part of our heritage

Joe Barry

Published 05/08/2015 | 02:30

The recently published figures from Failte Ireland for last year's most visited Irish tourist attractions make interesting reading.

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The Guinness Storehouse came first with over one and a quarter million visitors, with the Cliffs of Moher coming a close second.

At €42.50 for a family ticket, the Storehouse doesn't come cheap. Having been there, I cannot see what all the fuss is about and while tourists seem to adore it, I would much prefer to go to the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin or the National Gallery, both of which, to my mind offer far more and, remarkably, are free.

Entry to another top 10 venue, Tayto Park costs €14 per head. If you have children in tow, it is not inexpensive but it attracted over 450,000 visitors and provides the essentials for a great family outing.

I enjoyed every minute of a trip there last year and with the addition of their amazing new rollercoaster, the figures for 2015 will surely be higher.

Dublin Zoo, another great venue, had over one million people through the turnstiles. It costs €55.50 for two adults and four children, again not cheap when you consider you still have to buy food or an ice cream or two.

However, the wonderful and unique place is excellently managed and maintained.

There are places throughout Ireland that we all want to see at some point in our lives and the island of Skellig Michael attracts tourists from near and far.

I recently drove with a few friends to stay in a rented holiday home near Portmagee and from there, weather permitting, we planned to travel by boat to the Skelligs.

How anyone could even think of founding a monastery and living in the stone beehive shaped huts on such a bleak spot is astonishing, especially back in the 8th century.

Life as a monk was tough then for apart from the stormy seas, their only food was whatever fish they could catch along with some meat from gulls and their eggs. They later built tiered gardens to add to their food sources.

An additional and ever present danger was invasion by the Vikings.

But somehow they hung on for at least four centuries and now visitors can climb the 600 steps to the summit of the island and marvel at the courage and tenacity of those early settlers.

Murky

The day we had planned to visit dawned murky and misty.

Lacking the backbone of a medieval monk, I, along with another member of our party, decided I would forgo the pleasure of risking life and limb and instead watched from a vantage point on Valentia while our friends headed off bravely in the rough sea.

They returned some five hours later, breathless with exhilaration at the challenge of the climb and the sight of so many seabirds that appeared fearless of humans while they reared their young.

As the tourists laboured up the rocky heights, puffins kept toddling in and out of their burrows while gannets and numerous other species soared around them or sat guarding their nests.

We were told that since filming of an episode of the Star Wars movie took place on the island, visitor numbers have increased hugely.

Whether this is a good thing or not is hotly debated but the Skelligs still remain an awesome place to visit and are home to the second largest gannet nesting site in the world.

George Bernard Shaw, following a visit there in 1910, described Skellig Michael as 'an incredible, impossible, mad place' and 'part of our dream world'.

The Skellig rocks lie around 12kms west of Valentia across what is frequently a stormy sea.

Visitors are warned of the dangers and the trip is not recommended for anyone who is not fully fit and active.

There is always the chance of slipping off the steps on to the rocks below and given the steep terrain, it is not for the very young or old.

However, all who go there return bursting with enthusiasm and praise of the scenery and the excitement of the entire experience.

Skellig Michael can be accessed by boats daily from Portmagee and Derrynane at a cost of €60 per head. Fortunately this includes returning you to shore!

jbarry@ independent.ie

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