A new tourism initiative linking counties Wexford, Waterford and Wicklow, with three counties in West Wales, has been officially launched in the Riverside Park Hotel, Enniscorthy by Ministers Andrew Doyle and Paul Kehoe.
The Celtic Routes project is aimed at encouraging visitors to the two regions to explore attractions that are off the beaten track, while on their way to their final destination.
Representatives of the local authorities from all six counties involved were in attendance at the launch along with members of Fáilte Ireland and their counterparts from Wales.
The three Welsh counties involved are Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion.
Through the initiative it's hoped that less well known areas will become transit zones to new touring sites with the overall aim of increasing the time that visitors spend in both regions.
Prior to the launch Padraig Sinnott and Paul O'Reilly entertained the attendees with some fantastic instrumental folk music on Uileann pipes, low whistle and guitar,
The Cathaoirleach of Wexford County Council, Cllr Michael Sheehan, said the underlying aim of the project is 'to convert potential visitors into staying visitors'.
'This supports the ethos of Ireland's Ancient East,' he said.
'Our goal is to make Ireland's Ancient East the most personally engaging cultural destination in Europe by harnessing the authentic character of the real Ireland, its living culture, lush landscapes and hidden history; opening it up for everyone.'
Funding of €1.9m for the Celtic Routes project, provided through the European Territorial Cooperation Programme [known as Interreg or the Ireland-Wales Fund], will not be affected by Brexit.
Cllr Sheehan praised everyone involved in making the project come to fruition.
Cllr Emlyn Dole:
His sentiments were echoed by his counterpart from Carmarthenshire County Council, Cllr Emlyn Dole, who said it was a great sight to see the Welsh Dragon flag flying beside the tri-colour when he arrived in Co Wexford.
Opening his address in his native language he caused a ripple of laughter when he explained what he said in English 'just in case' no-one present understood.
He emphasised the strong links between Wales and Ireland and a shared Celtic heritage was what bound the countries together.
He said the six local authorities involved in the project were privileged to share their Celtic identity with the wider world.
'Our Celtic forefathers made much of gatherings but it was the journey to get their that was important as well,' said Cllr Dole.
'We have a tale to tell of two nations with similar blood going through our veins,' he said.
'We have the same influences and while we may have friendly rivalry we celebrate each others victories and feel each other's losses,' he added.
He said the project will encourage people to switch off their SatNavs and rely instead on intuition 'and even a good old fashioned map' while visiting lesser well known areas in both regions.
Oonagh Messette is the Project Manager on the Irish side and she highlighted aspects of the Celtic theme and ethos on which the initiative was based.
In highlighting the Celtic Routes website she said it's aimed at making people feel what it's like to be part of Celtic culture.
'It's based around the three realms of sky, land and sea,' she said.
Ms Messette emphasised that the three realms signify spiritual strength, tranquillity and cleansing.
She then presented the attendees with a demonstration of the website and highlighted various ways local businesses will benefit from being 'pinned' on the interactive map.
She said there are over 80 hours of photos in the project archive and she encouraged local businesses to access that resource for promotional purposes.
At the moment the website can be accessed through www.celticroutes.irish, but Ms Messette said work is being done to 'buy the correct domain' name.
'I would encourage people to get pinned on the website,' she said.
Roger Pride, from the consultant company Heavenly, which is the 'brand guardian' behind the project also spoke at the launch.
He said Celtic Routes is all about connections and he emphasised that at one point in the distant past South East Ireland and West Wales were linked physically.
Despite there being water now between the two regions Mr Pride said: 'The people are very similar.'
'When I go away I would try to find Irish people because we share the same characteristics,' he said.
'Ireland and Wales have strong international profiles,' he added, before commenting that the six counties involved in Celtic Routes share something even more valuable in terms of tourism potential.
'This is about getting people to slow down and take detours,' he said.
'It's the marketing strength of Visit Wales and Ireland's Ancient East,' he added.
He said the project is developing a new chapter to Ireland's Ancient East story.
He said the brand is about enticing people to both regions and then encouraging them to stay longer and explore deeper.
From the people who live there and the landscapes, to the history of the six counties, Mr Pride said there is much in common between the regions and a shared sense of values and natural heritage is something that can be maximised.
'At its heart the Celtic spirit is a deep and fundamental link to our land,' he said.
'That is what we have been trying to develop with our partners,' he added.
'It's important that we target people who are already coming to visit Wales and Ireland [and] the three realms of sky, sea and land is there the marketing comes from.'
Dr Phil Brennan:
Dr Phil Brennan, along with his wife, operates Camino Tours in Tramore. Originally from Gorey, he said he is very proud of his Wexford routes.
He told those present that his business, which took three years to develop, involved taking people off the beaten track and giving them an experience they would treasure forever.
'It wasn't easy but we are now arriving at a point where we need to be,' he said.
'When people go off the beaten track that is where the magic happens,' he added.
He said through the Celtic Routes project visitors would be able to benefit from a mindful and spiritual experience away from the crowds and that is how his own business operates.
'It's a unique offering to create something very special,' he said.
Dr Brennan said it's more important to place emphasis on the overall experience than 'miles done' when offering visitors something they will remember forever.
He complimented the work done on the Copper Coast in Wales which is 'completely walkable from start to finish',
Minister Andrew Doyle:
Towards the end of the speeches Minister Andrew Doyle TD, was invited, along with Minister Paul Kehoe, to officially launch the project.
He said he took great delight in doing so and complimented everyone involved in making the project a reality.
Highlighting that he was from Glendalough he praised those involved for turning a dream into a reality.
Minister Doyle said Ireland's Ancient East was developed to counteract the success of the Wild Atlantic Way and he said it offered visitors 'so many different attractions'.
'They are there to be discovered,' he said.
'There is so much to discover and I think there is huge potential in this project,' he added.
He said that in the six counties involved there 'is a huge story to tell'.
'It gives me great pleasure to be the first to applaud the Celtic Routes project,' he said.
He also praised 'the vast wealth of collateral that will be available from the [project] tool-kit for all tourism bodies and businesses to use'.
Minister Doyle went on to comment: 'EU or no EU, Brexit or no Brexit, land division or not, we will still all be Celts.'
Minister Paul Kehoe echoed his colleague's comments and highlighted Dr Phil Brennan's story as being indicative of the success of such an approach to tourism attractions.
Expressing his 'wholehearted support for the project' he said: 'We cannot overestimate the important this will have on tourism here.'
'It will strengthen the bond that exists between the two countries,' said Minister Kehoe.
He said towns and villages along with rural areas in both regions will benefit from the project.
'West Wales and south east Ireland face the same challenges and this is about building on our strengths,' he said.
Colm Neville (Visit Wexford):
The Chairperson of Visit Wexford, Colm Neville, expressed excitement about the project and from a traders perspective said it's imperative that traders get behind it and support it.
He said their support is what will ensure the project 'thrives' going forward.
'This project has huge potential but it could fail if the traders do not engage with it,' he said.
Describing it as 'a two-way street' Mr Neville said stakeholders involved in Visit Wexford and the tourism sector in general here are 'two small to attract international visitors on our own' but collectively that can be done and with that in mind he said the project 'is to be very much welcomed'.
With regard to traders and how they can support the initiative he said: 'It's up to us now to engage with it and support it as best we can.'
Aileen Dowling (Fáilte Ireland):
Aileen Dowling, from Fáilte Ireland, said she was delighted to attend the launch of what she described as an 'advertising and promotional campaign'.
'Ireland's Ancient East is one of Fáilte Ireland's major tourism brands,' she said.
She commented that it highlighted the built heritage that exists within the region and she described Wexford, Wicklow and Waterford as being 'key locations' within Ireland's Ancient East.
Frank Curran (CEO Wicklow County Council):
The Chief Executive Officer of Wicklow County Council, Frank Curran, was the final speaker at the launch.
On behalf of the three Irish local authorities involved he said the project was the result of positive collaboration.
He said the €1.9n Interreg funding was very important to the project but added that an investment of €20,000 per year for each local authority was worth around €2m in return and described that as 'hugely significant'.
'The Carmarthenshire County Council is the lead Welsh partner and Wexford County Council is the lead partner here and I wish Oonagh and her team the best of luck in this important phase of the project.'