Pressure builds to include Waterford on Wild Atlantic Way
Local councillors will this week formally propose an extension of the Wild Atlantic Way, but Fáilte Ireland remains adamant that the touring route "is as it is".
"The coastline here has been neglected for years," says Eamon Quinlan.
The Fianna Fáil Councillor for Tramore and Waterford City West is frustrated.
Like many in his county, he wants Waterford included on the Wild Atlantic Way. Like many, he doesn't understand why it was omitted in the first place.
"This is a tourism venture that attracts a huge investment, and where most tourism spend is going to go," Quinlan says. "But there's a real fear that as the comeback takes hold, Waterford won't be part of it."
That's why, at a meeting of Waterford City and Council this Thursday, he and Cllr Tom Cronin (Dungarvan and Lismore) will formally propose to include Waterford on the touring route, and condemn the county's exclusion.
In a separate initiative, Quinlan says he will request the full council to write to the Department of Tourism, Transport and Sport, officially petitioning it to include Waterford on the Wild Atlantic Way.
In East Cork, similar proposals are being prepared by Cllr Aaron O'Sullivan.
There's a big incentive for doing so.
Since its launch this April, the "world's longest defined coastal touring route" has been the subject of a major promotional push at home and overseas. TV, print and online campaigns have ranged from cinema ads to media visits, from coastal broadcasts by 2FM's Tubridy Show to billboards in the Paris metro, showcasing the West to a worldwide audience of millions.
Most recently, Tourism Ireland teamed up with ITV and Northern Ireland-born television presenter Christine Bleakley, for a new, six-part television series highlighting the Wild Atlantic Way.
Needless to say, Waterford features in none of the campaigns.
"West Waterford is a forgotten part of the world," says another local, Paul Flynn.
Together with his wife Máire, the famous chef has run The Tannery restaurant in Dungarvan for 17 years.
"In the middle of summer you might meet five or six cars coming against you on the Copper Coast, and that's it. Everybody stands up for where they're from, but we have to get up every single day and fight for our businesses...
"It's so frustrating that the Wild Atlantic Way ends in Kinsale."
Starting the route at Rosslare Europort would make more sense, Flynn believes.
Omitting the rest of Ireland is "a lost opportunity," agrees Adriaan Bartels, General Manager of the five-star Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore.
"Having spent a long time working in Kerry and knowing that most tourists head for the Ring of Kerry as a must-do trip, it's interesting to see how few of these head for where I am now in Waterford. A route along the coast would definitely help put us on the map."
Fáilte Ireland, however, sees no prospect of a route change.
"The Wild Atlantic Way is as it is," says Alex Connolly, Head of Communications.
"Obviously it will evolve over the next couple of years, with loops off it and so on, but we don't envisage the route changing per sé."
Asked why the route excludes East Cork and Waterford, he said:
"The Wild Atlantic Way initiative was never intended to be defined by the extent of Ireland’s Atlantic Coast.
"It was to broadly follow the Malin to Mizen geography... As part of the Route Development process, these extremities were extended on either end (from Malin and Mizen) to anchor the route with the Northern Ireland border on the northern end (with a link to the Causeway Coastal Route) and to Kinsale on the southern end with Cork City as a key gateway and access point.
"In essence, while the Atlantic dominates our marketing of the route, it is the tourist experience which has defined it."
Then there's the big question: Is Waterford actually on the Atlantic?
Not according to the Irish Marine Institute.
"To the south, the Atlantic is separated from the Irish Sea by the Celtic Sea," it says.
The Celtic Sea stretches from Mizen Head in Cork to Carnsore Point in Wexford, as can be seen from the map below, based on data from the World Ocean Base and International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO).
Its understanding is "that the Atlantic Ocean ends where the Celtic Sea begins".
If the Wild Atlantic Way stuck rigidly to the Atlantic seaboard, however, the Mizen to Kinsale stretch would need to be excluded.
If the route runs to Kinsale, then why not Cork City, Waterford or Wexford?
The Wild Atlantic Way is "a project of scale", Fáilte Ireland's Alex Connolly says, a "unifying tourism project" specifically designed to appeal to the outdoors, adventure and activity markets - as county boundaries mean little to overseas visitors.
"The project was born out of the need to address the dramatic decline in international visitors to the West of Ireland over the last decade... It's not simply a case of tacking Waterford on. There's a logic to it."
He also points out that the largest capital investment it has made "in the last six years" has been in Waterford - €10.8 million for the Viking Triangle development (€10m is being invested in the Wild Atlantic Way in 2014, by contrast).
Furthermore, a similar "unifying tourism proposition" is in the pipeline for the southeast in 2015.
As to what exactly this proposition involves, he won't say.
Our understanding, however, is that it's likely to be a cultural/heritage play harnessing recent developments like the Viking Triangle and Kilkenny's Medieval Mile in an effort to appeal to older, so-called "culturally curious" visitors.
"This is a work in progress and is intended to form a complementary tourism proposition to the Wild Atlantic Way," Connolly says.
Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons added:
"This year, we are also highlighting the fact that Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city, founded by the Vikings in 914 and celebrating its 1,100 anniversary; we are promoting the anniversary, the city and its environs widely around the world."
Eamon Quinlan is not deterred. His proposal is ready to go.