The River Shannon will be a central focus for ‘Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands’, Minister for Tourism Shane Ross revealed at the launch of the project in the Hodson Bay Hotel last week.
A Shannon Master Plan is currently being developed by Fáilte Ireland in partnership with Waterways Ireland to drive tourism opportunities both on and off the water, and in the towns surrounding the river.
The overall project investment in the Midlands will allow for growing tourism in soft activities (outdoor activities combined with a nature or cultural element ) by encouraging visitors to be ‘active in nature’ and to explore the region through walking, cycling, fishing, food trails and boating routes.
Another focal point for Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands will be the Beara Breifne Way, which spans the whole region, and where a compelling walking and trail experience will be developed to international standards.
A series of food networks and trails will also be introduced as part of the new brand, offering jobs in the Athlone area.
Fáilte Ireland says the project is about highlighting and enhancing what the Midlands has to offer.
“It has rich natural assets including its many lakes, walkways and blueways, and through the Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands brand, we will develop what already exists and bring new experiences to the table,” a statement from Fáilte Ireland read.
“Whether it’s cruising the Shannon, walking Beara Breifne Way, exploring Lough Key Forest, or taking an electric bike trail in Leitrim, there is something for everyone. Not to mention the huge amount of activities like boating and fishing offered by the region’s many lakes, including Lough Derg and Lough Allen.”
Complementing these activities will be a wealth of culture, from the Arigna Mines or Strokestown Park House in Roscommon, to the castles at Athlone and Birr and the sacred site of Clonmacnois.
An initial €2m has been allocated to start the development stage of the brand, with further funding and capital grants to follow. This first round of investment will help to develop visitor experiences and the development of infrastructure, tourism products, services and marketing.
During the next few years significant investment will be required to develop new and boost existing attractions in the region, in order to unleash the brand’s full potential.