Last year saw a remarkable comeback for Irish tourism. Here are 10 reasons to believe 2015 could be even better.
How can Fáilte Ireland possibly follow the Wild Atlantic Way?
Well, plans are in the works for a 'heritage proposition' that will draw from 5,000 years of history in the South and East. The proposition will become clearer over the next two months, with heritage sites from the Boyne Valley right down to Kilkenny's Medieval Mile and Waterford's Viking Triangle expected to be included.
One source tells me it's "just as ambitious" as the Wild Atlantic Way – although there has been no mention of the cost just yet.
Watch this space: www.failteireland.ie
Rhinos: Coming to Fota this summer.
2014 was the busiest year in the history of Fota Wildlife Park.
A new Tropical House opened on February 14th, with the first phase of a new 27-acre Asian Sanctuary following in June. It now includes two new Sumatran tigers, Visayan spotted deer and a Warty pig habitat.
This year, we can look forward to the arrival of Indian rhino (pictured above) in July, with Asian lions due to follow in 2016. The Asian Sanctuary will get its own dedicated gates, raised walkway and bridge over the rhino area too. Tickets cost €15/€9.50 or €45.50 for a family (2+2).
Watch this space: www.fotawildlife.ie.
Stand-up Paddling (SUP) with Leitrim Surf.
Launched late last year, the Shannon Blueway is a series of land and water-based trails along the River Shannon and Lough Allen Canal between Drumshanbo and Carrick-on-Shannon. Several local activity providers have created packages along the route - including cycling, walking, horse-riding and SUP (picture above courtesy of leitrimsurf.ie). A Shannon Blueway Adventure Fest is shaping up for the May bank holiday weekend, with what promises to be a carnival atmosphere in Leitrim Village.
Watch this space: www.waterwaysireland.org
Joe Schmidt at the Irish Whiskey Museum. Photo: Facebook/IrishWhiskeyMuseum
Irish rugby coach Joe Schmidt launched the first Irish whiskey museum in the world this month. Exhibitions at the College Green space are designed to bring the stories of Ireland's whiskey heritage to life (from the days of “foul-tasting” Uisce Beatha to today’s world-class brands) using interactive technology, talented tale-tellers and of course, whiskey tastings. The museum is independent of the drinks industry, and more extensive tastings are available with VIP packages. Tickets from €15pp.
Watch this space: www.irishwhiskeymuseum.ie
Ghan House, new to Ireland's Blue Book for 2015.
Ireland’s Blue Book is adding four new properties to its collection of country houses, hotels and restaurants for 2015. Joining the collection are Ghan House in Carlingford, Co. Louth; Campagne restaurant in Kilkenny and Restaurant Forty One in Dublin. Sea View House, a four-bedroom hideaway set against the background of Ben Bulben in Co. Sligo, is also joining as a private rental.
The additions bring to 47 the number of boutique hotels, restaurants and country houses in one of Europe’s premier collections - membership of which is notoriously difficult to achieve, and highly-prized as a result. Ghan House has dinner and B&B from €110pp midweek and €130pp at weekends.
Watch this space: www.Irelands-blue-book.ie
Glencar Waterfall, Co. Leitrim
2015 is the 150th anniversary of Yeats's birth (June 13, 1865), and Yeats 2015 sees a host of events, readings, plays and celebrations to mark the occasion. President Michael D Higgins is its patron, and most events will focus on summer (think summer schools, dramas by Blue Raincoat on the Wild Atlantic Way, exhibitions at The Model in Sligo and more) – though Hargadon's pub in Sligo is already doing 'Yeats at One', a series of readings weekdays at 1pm. Tourism Ireland will also push famous locations like the Lake Isle of Inisfree, Coole Park and Glencar Waterfall (pictured).
Watch this space: www.Yeats2015.com
Aerial view of the Old Head of Kinsale
In 2012, Belfast commemorated the sinking of Titanic. In 2015, it’s the turn of Kinsale, Cobh and Courtmacsherry, as the seaside towns shape up to remember the centenary of the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-boat on May 7th, 2015. It famously went down in just 18 minutes.
Among the planned events are ceremonies at the Old Head of Kinsale (sounding the boat’s original whistle), the issuing of a new An Post stamp, a re-enactment of the inquest at Kinsale Museum, a film festival night, 1915-style street market (by Kinsale Good Food Circle), and various exhibitions. The wreck of the Lusitania lies 18km (11.2 miles) due south of the Old Head Lighthouse.
Watch this space: www.oldheadofkinsale.com
Kilmurrin Beach, Co. Waterford
Not to be outdone by the Wild Atlantic Way (which stops at Kinsale), Waterford's Copper Coast is taking several actions to tempt tourists this year. The tiny stretch of coastline from Tramore to Dungarvan is both a hidden gem and Global Geopark, and in 2015 it will launch a series of 'Sense of Place' trails centred around themes like adventure/sports, heritage, eco, artistic, historical etc.
A new mining heritage and natural history museum is up and running at the Copper Coast Visitor centre in Bonmahon, and it's due to get a re-launch on March 14th, too.
Watch this space: www.coppercoastgeopark.com
Skellig Michael. Photo: Emer O'Shea/Trident Holiday Homes
All eyes will be on the Star Wars reboot next Christmas (Episode 7 is slated for release on December 18th, 2015), with Irish interest piqued after shooting took place on the UNESCO World Heritage Site this year.
What exactly was filmed on the Skellig rocks? For how long will they feature in the film? Will Jar Jar Binks appear in a corbelled hut? Nooooo!
Apart from the historic rocks offshore, this quiet corner of Kerry is home to Valentia Island, some thumping cycling trails, a fab chocolate factory (www.skelligschocolate.com) and an international Dark Skies Reserve (the absence of light pollution revealing thousands of stars in the sky). It’s like a baby Ring of Kerry, or a mini Wild Atlantic Way, ripe for exploration.
Watch this space: www.skelligkerry.com
2015: A breakthrough year for Irish design?
Irish Design 2015 (ID2015) is a year-long initiative exploring, promoting and celebrating Irish design in just about every form. Some 300 design events and exhibitions are planned across the country, showcasing the diversity of Irish design (and designers) to local and global audiences.
Jobs are a big driver here, but so is tourism. Irish design has never been leveraged to the extent that it could be in selling the island - at least not to the same extent as landscape, food or history. The flagship exhibition, Irish Design Here/Now opens in Dublin Castle in July.
Watch this space: www.irishdesign2015.ie
The Gobbins, under construction at Islandmagee.
The what? Those were our initial thoughts, too.
The Gobbins is a dramatic, two-mile-long cliff-face path incorporating spectacular tubular and suspension bridges, a staircase, caves and tunnels carved through the rock at Islandmagee. Recreating a major early 20th century attraction in Northern Ireland, it's set to open during summer 2015, allowing visitors and daredevils to experience the Irish coast in a way not seen since it was first built in 1902.
Game of Thrones, anyone?
Watch this space: www.discovernorthernireland.com