SOME of the country's most popular counties with tourists have failed to be represented on Failte Ireland's list of Ireland's 45 leading tourism towns and villages.
The long list of locations published yesterday by the tourist promotion body qualifies each destination for a crack at a top prize of €10,000 in marketing and development supports.
But counties famous internationally for their beauty and visitor appeal have failed to make the grade.
They include Galway, Sligo and Wexford, while Cavan, Carlow, Kildare, Leitrim and Westmeath also failed to be listed.
The 45 contenders for the Failte Ireland Tourism Towns Awards will be whittled down to 10, each receiving a prize of at least €1,000. The award is aimed at supporting towns and villages to develop their tourism potential.
Cork leads the way with nine towns and villages chosen for the long list. Clare and Mayo each have five towns while Kerry has four and Donegal and Waterford each have three.
In all, towns from 18 counties satisfied the judges' criteria that they demonstrated a keen sense of place, local community involvement in the visitor experience, a good range of tourist products and a unified approach to marketing and developing the town into a tourist attraction.
The top 10 Highly Commended Tourism Towns will be announced at the National Tidy Towns Awards later in the year with the overall winner to be announced by Failte Ireland in November.
Portmagee in Co Kerry was the winning town in 2012.
Tourism and Sport Minister Michael Ring said it was encouraging so many towns and villages had entered the competition in its second year.
Patricia Kennedy, of the Tourism Town Committee with Portmagee, said the award had helped boost the tourism prospects of the town.
Co Galway mayor Tom Welby described the publication as 'a wake-up call' for towns aiming to attract more tourists.
"It is disappointing that not one of our towns and villages made the long list," he said.
Meanwhile, high-spending American tourists are returning to Ireland in greater numbers, with hopes high that one million foreign visitors will spend €1bn here this year.
Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons is confident that the increase in visitors from long-haul destinations such as the US and mainland Europe will lead to a substantial increase in tourism revenue.
Central Statistics Office figures have revealed the number of trips to Ireland increased by 7.4pc to 1,251,700 in the first three months of the year – an increase of 86,000 on the same period last year.