Tuesday 25 October 2016

Ireland's Ancient East: Six questions about our new touring region

Is this the new Wild Atlantic Way?

Published 14/04/2015 | 11:17

Haroldstown Dolmen, Carlow. Photo: Andy Goss
Haroldstown Dolmen, Carlow. Photo: Andy Goss

Fáilte Ireland's new "touring region" has landed, and it's got some pretty big boots to fill. Pól Ó Conghaile answers your questions.

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What is it?

Ireland's Ancient East is described as a "touring region" as opposed to a route.

Unlike the Wild Atlantic Way, which has a set beginning, end and length, the new initiative looks more like a geographical area that visitors are invited to explore at their own pace.

The focus is very much on built heritage, of course, with 5,000 years of history ranging from passage tombs to Palladian mansions throughout the south and east. Tours, walks, festivals and events will be encouraged to tie-in and interact with the brand.

Can it replicate the success of the Wild Atlantic Way?

That's the big question.

The Wild Atlantic Way has thoroughly vindicated Fáilte Ireland's decision to repackage the West Coast as a touring route, and has contributed significantly to Ireland's tourism comeback.

Both Fáilte Ireland and the Minister for Tourism, Paschal Donohoe, are confident that Ireland's Ancient East can match the Wild Atlantic Way in terms of success, claiming it has the potential to deliver an extra 600,000 overseas visitors and increase visitor revenue by almost 25pc to €950m in the region by 2020.

Rising visitor numbers and international flights (Dublin Airport recently added 21 routes for its summer schedule) will undoubtedly help, but it remains to be seen whether the new brand can catch the imagination.

Does the name work?

The jury's out. 'Ireland's Ancient East' is not as immediately catchy as the Wild Atlantic Way, and certainly not as sexy. But then, it is clearly a proposition aimed at older tourists (from the early 30s up), so maybe that doesn't matter.

Ultimately, the success of the concept will depend on how slick the signage and branding looks, the effective training of (and communication with) local communities, and the buy-in of local tourism businesses.

Everybody likes a winner, so if Ireland's Ancient East takes off, we'll all be behind it. If it doesn't, we'll complain that it's boring.

I don't envy Fáilte Ireland on this one.

Is the focus too broad?

Although shorter than the Wild Atlantic Way (at 2,500km, the world's longest defined coastal touring route), Ireland's Ancient East takes in vast swathes of the country. It ranges from Wicklow Gaol to Clonmacnoise, for instance, and Newgrange to Hook Head.

Understandably, Fáilte Ireland will have been under pressure to include as much as possible - both due to Ireland's heritage riches and the fact that so many regions were aggrieved at having been excluded from the Wild Atlantic Way.

Continental and American visitors are unlikely to be daunted by the distances involved, but in covering such a vast area without including specific routes, there is a danger of 'Ireland's Ancient East' ending up a more diluted proposition.

Although described as "compact", it basically covers half the country. 'Itineraries' have been mooted, so I'll be interested to see what shape they take.

How much will it cost?

There's no clear information on this at the moment.

Minister Donohoe has indicated that costs and further details will be revealed in the coming weeks and months as the proposition takes shape.

Ireland's Ancient East is described as 'similar in scale and ambition' to the Wild Atlantic Way, however, and Fáilte Ireland invested €10 million in the touring route last year.

Who will begrudge it?

Despite its success, the Wild Atlantic Way ruffled its fair share of feathers - from communities close to (but not close enough to) the Atlantic Coast, to East Cork, Waterford and Wexford, who were excluded from the route.

Ireland's Ancient East ranges very widely (perhaps too widely - see above) but it will inevitably disappoint some. Monaghan, Cavan, Longford and Roscommon now find themselves excluded from not one, but two massive tourism initiatives, for example.

Somewhat bizarrely, there was a kerfuffle yesterday regarding Wexford's "exclusion" from the initiative, with Fianna Fáil councillor Malcolm Byrne claiming that to ignore the county was "a misguided decision".

Wexford is, of course, included.

What do you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, by emailing travel@independent.ie, on Facebook at Independent Travel or on Twitter at @indo_travel_.

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