300km of new trails to create mountain bike magic for Ireland
A €13.6m investment in biking centres will give mountain bike tourism a big boost, Pól Ó Conghaile reports
Ireland is set to become one of "the top mountain biking destinations in the world", thanks to a €13.6m investment in thrilling new tracks and trails.
Over 300km of trails and four new bike centres will be built over the next three years, creating a "critical mass" of facilities to attract international visitors.
"This is exactly what's needed to develop Ireland as a mountain biking destination," says Mike Jones, CEO of Ireland's Association for Adventure Tourism (iaat.ie).
"To attract people on a holiday, you need a variety of locations that bring different landscapes and parts of the countryside to life. We've been crying out for this."
The development, driven by Fáílte Ireland and Coillte with the majority of funding coming though the Government's Rural Regeneration and Development Fund (RDDF), will create four national trail centres.
They sprawl over seven counties - at Ballyhoura (Limerick/Cork), Coolaney (Sligo), the Slieve Blooms (Offaly/ Laois) and Ticknock & Ballinastoe (Dublin/Wicklow).
"We have the perfect landscape for mountain biking... and it's under state ownership," says Orla Caroll, Fáilte Ireland's Head of Product Development.
The new trails could attract up to three million visitors a year, she adds, bringing an annual tourism windfall of some €22 million to rural communities.
Similar to Scotland's 7stanes, each centre will have over 80km of trails - providing visitors with a minimum of two days' riding and a compelling reason both to stay overnight, and to travel between centres.
"Mountain biking is a year-round activity here," Mike Jones points out.
"A lot of trails on the continent, and even in Scotland, shut in winter because of snow. We can provide it when a lot of Europe can't. It's a unique selling point."
“Investment has been made in the past by project partners in mountain biking across Ireland, but never to the scale needed to elevate this to an international proposition," adds Deborah Meghen, Director of Stewardship for Coillte.
The trails are one of over 60 rural projects to be awarded funding this week under the Department of Rural and Community Development's scheme.
Others include a a €3.9m investment in upgraded National Parks facilities, over €2m for Louth's Ardee Castle, and almost €1 million for a new visitor centre and trails on Lough Derg's Inis Cealtra Island.