Wednesday 18 October 2017

Ireland's Ancient East: What is our new tourism proposition, exactly?

Travel Insider

Haroldstown Dolmen, Carlow. Photo: Andy Goss
Haroldstown Dolmen, Carlow. Photo: Andy Goss
Loughcrew Cairns
Tin Church, Monaghan
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Ireland's Ancient East is Fáilte Ireland's follow-up to the Wild Atlantic Way. But what is it, exactly?

So Ireland's Ancient East is live.

The follow-up to the Wild Atlantic Way - Fáilte Ireland's difficult second album - has dropped. Signs are popping up, ads have aired, irelandsancienteast.com is online, and by the end of 2016, some €20 million will have been spent.

Yet still, a question niggles: What is it?

In truth, it's a little early to say. The fact that 'East' in this instance encompasses 17 counties, and attractions ranging from Cavan to Cobh, doesn't help.

Whereas the Wild Atlantic Way is a landscape, this is a touring region bundling multiple themes and 5,000 years of heritage.

It's been compared to an anthology, with signature stories that spread across the region (e.g. the Vikings, or 'Big Houses & Hard Times'). The geography makes more sense if you consider the Shannon as the ancient division between east and west.

Any clearer? As they say in politics, if you're explaining, you're losing.

In fairness, Ireland's Ancient East is designed to answer a different question to the Wild Atlantic Way. Specifically, it aspires to turn a region people pass through into a place they stay. By 2020, the aim is to grow overseas visitor revenue in the area by €204 million (28pc), and visitors numbers by 600,000 (21pc).

Whether it succeeds depends on whether counties and communities club together. I have my concerns (What will millennials make of it? What about the variable quality of our 'storytellers'? How will the itineraries work?), but the ball is rolling, and nobody benefits if Ireland's Ancient East fails.

The first album worked. This one deserves the space to evolve... if only so we can finally find out what it is.

On the bus

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Ireland's Ancient East. Map: Fáilte Ireland

Three years ago, nobody had heard of the Wild Atlantic Way. Now it's on every menu, activity and letterhead within striking distance of the western seaboard. Will Ireland's Ancient East get the same buy-in, helping to create a sense of destination and energy for visitors - both at home and overseas?

Bus Éireann is one of the first out of the traps, having just published a new brochure with a dedicated map for Ireland's Ancient East, along with an Open Road Pass (buseireann.ie/openroadticket), allowing three days of unlimited travel for €60.

Made in Monaghan

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Tin Church, Monaghan

Monaghan is one of the lesser-explored corners of Ireland's Ancient East (the fact that it's in Ulster adds to the confusion). The county is rife with hidden heritage gems, however - from Patrick Kavanagh Country to Carrickmacross Lace.

One of my favourite stories is that of St Peter's Tin Church in Laragh. Said to be based on a church in Switzerland, the 19th-century oddity was built from corrugated iron near the old mills of Laragh, and has recently been restored by the Laragh Heritage Trust. It's a cool little detour. See monaghantourism.com for more.

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