Monday 17 June 2019

From Center Parcs to Love Island - Longford is having a moment

Longford woman Maura Higgins arrives at the Love Island villa. PIC: ITV2
Longford woman Maura Higgins arrives at the Love Island villa. PIC: ITV2
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Longford is finally on the map.

As the new Love Island contestant Maura Higgins sat opposite her first date, Tommy Fury (brother of boxer Tyson), on the hit ITV2 reality show this week, he asked her where she was from.

"Longford," she replied tentatively, clearly expecting to be met with a blank stare and quizzical eyebrows from the British boxer.

However, Tommy knows Longford. The Furys are Irish, he said, and it's quite possible this was the very moment that smitten Maura, who hails from Ballymahon, decided Tommy was, in fact, her "soulmate".

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Maura Higgins and Tommy Fury on Love Island. PIC: ITV2

There are likely a few people in Ireland who are unaware of, or ambivalent to, Longford's existence and even those who are familiar with it may well struggle to state one solitary fact about the county.

Landlocked at the heart of the country, it hosts the intersection of the N4 and N5, and is best known to many as the modestly sized county through which one passes on the way from Dublin to Mayo or vice versa.

Back in 2015, Failte Ireland declared Longford the least visited of the 26 counties in Ireland (ouch) and a new bypass now circumvents the town itself.

However, it looks like the fortunes of the lovely Longford may be changing as this week has seen the county feature in the news at home and abroad.  Suddenly, Longford is on the map.

Firstly, the nation is incredulous that someone from outside of Dublin (fellow contestant Yewande is the villa's resident Dub), let alone little-known Longford, has infiltrated the Majorcan Love Island villa.

Maura has featured in just two episodes but has already made the biggest impact of the series so far thanks to her striking model/grid girl looks, forthright banter, and Longford accent, which stands out amongst the predominantly British brogues.

However, Maura is not Longford's only claim to fame this week - a Longford man has also infiltrated the RTE Newsroom.

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Fran McNulty is appointed as new Agriculture and Consumer Affairs correspondent for RTE News 11/06/19 Fran McNulty picture during a Prime Time report broadcast last week on the impact of insurance fraud on the health service.

A Longford Leader headline declares, "Longford takeover of RTÉ newsroom continues as Fran McNulty appointed Agriculture & Consumer Affairs correspondent".

Indeed, 'takeover' is an apt term given Mr McNulty will join fellow Longfordians, Midlands correspondent Ciarán Mullooly and North East correspondent Sinead Hussey, on the team.

Mullooly tweeted, "The Longford Association of RTE Correspondents grows its membership again - that’s 2 this year from da Town . Congrats Fran" while Sinéad Hussey also congratulated him with a tweet, "We’ve worked together for years and known each other longer! Congrats @franmcnulty - the Longford takeover continues!"

There's no stopping them.  And while Longford is exporting its talent to planet RTE and beyond, it's also working to entice people from all over Ireland to the county with the imminent launch of Center Parcs Longford. 

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Puttingn the final touches to Center Parcs Longford Forest. Pic:Naoise Culhane

According to Independent.ie Travel Editor, Pól Ó Conghaile, it will be one of Ireland's biggest-ever tourism developments, having cost €233 million, and it has already taken a whopping 4,000 bookings ahead of its opening on July 29.

When it's finished it will cater for up to 2,500 guests across 466 lodges and 30 apartments.  At last count Longford had around 40,000 inhabitants across the county so that's a pretty impressive influx of visitors.

There are worries that they'll head straight to and from the center, however, and miss what else Longford has to offer, much like those who drive straight through the county via the new bypass.

However, for those who do wander beyond the confines of Center Parcs, there's more to the county than a bypass and hilarious 'wasp at mass' video (see below).

St Mel's Cathedral may not have the profile of somewhere like Dublin's Christchurch or St Peter's Church with Oliver Plunkett's head in Drogheda. Rebuilt and restored following a fire in 2009, it's a stunning mix of mosaics and stained glass and grandeur.

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St. Mel's Cathedral, Longford. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

There's also the beautiful Saint's Island on the shore of Lough Ree near Newtowncashel, complete with the ruins of the Augustinian Priory of All Saints, and the Corlea Trackway and the Backstage Theatre.

Plans are also in the offing for a major tourism and amenity attraction at the side of Granard Motte, a national monument on the outskirts of Granard.  It will develop a heritage park on 15 acres of land and will recrete a living Norman village and children's amenities.

So, while Maura and Fran and Center Parcs may have put it on the map this week, Longford has plenty to recommend it otherwise.

Read more: Longford farmer mulls over whether to buy a bull or tractor after €238,000 Lotto win

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