COUNCILLORS in Clare and Tipperary County Councils have united to support a call for the provision of a new tourism brand for Lough Derg.
Clare County Councillor Michael Begley proposed at the last joint meeting of the Killaloe and Nenagh Municipal Districts that new tourism branding should be introduced for Lough Derg. Councillor Begley suggested the “Ring of Lough Derg” or “Slí Lough Derg” should be provided to give more reasons for tourists to stay longer in the locality.
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“When you come off the motorway, we are little more than a place to pass through to go to Ennis or Limerick.
“In order to correct this, we need a product with a recognisable name that has built into it all the attributes of Killaloe and all the other areas up to Portumna.
“If you had a product that was the circle of that route that would take a few days to complete, you would get more bed nights and food sold,” he said.
He expressed concern that back in 1994, Shannon Development produced a report, Lough Derg – an international waterpark, which is now “gathering dust” in every councillors’ office because the emphasis was primarily on the water.
He stressed that tourism promotion has to focus on on-shore facilities, in addition to water amenities, to attract large numbers of visitors to the lake.
Tipperary County Council chairperson Phyll Bugler proposed that Clare and Tipperary County Councils should write to the tourism minister to get a progress report on the feasibility study being conducted on the Lakelands District.
Councillor Bugler said the previous tourism minister pledged to provide similar funding to the finance provided for the Wild Atlantic Way to promote the lakelands all along the River Shannon.
The Fine Gael councillor told the meeting there is a niche in the market promoting “well-being tourism”, such as slow cooking, cycling, walking, boating and health activities all along the River Shannon.
“This is the most important study that should help promote tourism in the whole lakelands area, like the Wild Atlantic Way did for the West of Ireland. We need something to bring tourists into the area, keep them in the area and get repeat business,” she said.
Tipperary County Councillor Joe Hannigan pointed out the amenities in one part of Lough Derg are not enough to create a sustainable tourism offering, which illustrates the need for local authorities to work together to promote what is a unique product.
He suggested that representatives of Clare, Tipperary and Galway county councils should meet and devise a draft Lough Derg tourism plan.
Supporting any future joint local authority tourism initiative, Clare County Councillor Pat Hayes pointed out once a tourist heads out on the Dublin road, after leaving Killaloe and Ballina, they are in the Ancient East for tourism purposes.
With Lough Derg situated between the Wild Atlantic Way and the Ancient East, Councillor Hayes said the lake has never benefited from the tourism promotion it fully deserves.
Supporting developments such as the new management plan for Holy Island and the new Blueway water initiative, Councillor Hayes stressed “tourists don’t look at boundaries”.
He proposed that other initiatives should be developed, such as a new walkway around Lough Derg, to ensure people stay longer in this area.
During a visit to Doolin, he recalled that he couldn’t get through the village due to the traffic congestion and when he stopped off at the Cliffs of Moher, he saw 27 coaches who were queuing up to enter.
“If we could get 10% of the people who are stopping off in the Cliffs of Moher to visit Lough Derg, we would be doing very well,” he said.
He claimed that tourism promotion in the Lough Derg region had been “neglected” since the abolition of Shannon Development, as Fáilte Ireland seemed to have a more national focus.
Clare County Councillor Pat Burke expressed optimism for tourism development in Lough Derg, following the purchase of Holy Island near Mountshannon and approval for the new €41 million Shannon River Crossing, Killaloe bypass and upgrading of the Ballina to Killaloe Road.
Councillor Burke predicted the new management plan for Holy Island, which projects about 45,000 visitors annually to the area, would generate a huge tourism spin-off for all of Lough Derg.
The Fine Gael councillor stressed it is also up to accommodation providers to “roll up their sleeves” and get behind tourism initiatives, such as the island’s development.
Councillor John Carroll said there is now a great opportunity for local authorities to work together to unearth the heritage, ecclesiastical and other tourist gems around the lake.
Clare County Councillor Tony O’Brien said the tourist office in Killaloe, which includes a coffee shop, is now operational on a private basis.
The Fianna Fáil councillor said he understands that any tourism business along Lough Derg can drop in promotional brochures to the tourist office for display purposes.
Stressing the importance of tourism promotion, Tipperary County Councillor Ger Darcy said this issue is one of the main reasons why joint meetings between the two local authorities are so important.
“You could drive from Limerick to Athlone along the eastern shore of Lough Derg and not know the lake existed, unless you were very vigilant and saw one sign in Borrisokane. There is so much that can be done between the two authorities for activity tourism, on and off the water. There is great history, heritage and ecclesiastical monuments that complement both sides of the lake,” he said.
He recalled that Clare County Councillor Michael Begley and Tipperary County Councillor Mattie Ryan were members of the two separate authorities when the Lough Derg Working Group was launched in the ’90s.
While there was some progress in promoting the lake, he claimed this “fell apart” in recent times. Councillor Darcy proposed that East Galway should be included in any future joint local authority initiatives marketing the lake.
“One of the big options for rural Ireland is tourism, which we have not properly grasped in North Tipperary. It is important that the three local authorities in Clare, Limerick and Tipperary work together for tourism promotion. If someone comes to Killaloe, Scariff or Borrisokane for a few days, they will not want to stay in the one village for the week and will want to drive to different places,” he said.
He said there is hardly a more scenic drive in the country than the one around Lough Derg, which is as good as the Ring of Kerry if it is promoted properly.