April 2, 2011
By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
Driving in Ireland might euphemistically be called a challenge for those of us accustomed to driving on the right.
But the Irish, good folks that they are, have accepted that not everyone driving the roads speaks English, so they have designed a series of signs that leave little doubt about their messages.
A zigzag line indicates that a road ahead is no doubt just as much of a zigzag as the sign and maybe more so and there are several signs that depict a car or person falling into the water from a ledge. A friend saw the sign with the car and asked, “Why would anyone want to do that?”
Some signs just make you laugh out loud, such as the sign my sister photographed in Dublin at a Surgery that said, underneath the surgery designation, “Bicycles will be removed.”
We were delighted to read a story recently in The Irish Times saying that Tourism Ireland, the body responsible for attracting visitors to Ireland, is “going back to basics.” The article said Tourism Ireland would focus its efforts on Britain, the US, France, and Germany, which account for 75 percent of Ireland’s tourism.
Niall Gibbons, the agency’s chief executive, said tourism peaked in 2007 – at 9 million overseas visitors after growing from 7 million at the start of the decade. By 2009, when the last official figures were recorded, visitor numbers had dropped to 7.6-million. The Times said, “While not confirmed, last year it is estimated that the figure had fallen to 6.6 million.”
Ireland’s beauty hasn’t changed over the years but the economy has changed a lot – both here and there – and travelers are looking to get the best value for money. And, airlines like Aer Lingus (my personal favorite) have cut flights in and out of Ireland – especially to Shannon, which is an airport I really like because it’s so small and accommodating. The Times story says that the number of seats in and out of Ireland has fallen to 425,000 from 500,000 a week in 2008.
Gibbons said that value for money became the industry’s achilles heel, particularly at the height of the boom when escalating domestic demand meant tourism operators forgot about overseas visitors. Some elements, such as exchange rates, are, of course, beyond anyone’s control, but others are not. And, The Times story said, “It looks like the industry is addressing at least some of the issues and that Ireland now has the cheapest hotels in Europe – and restaurants are following fast.
Many British visitors are between 25-35, the story said, so Tourism Ireland has utilized Facebook and Twitter messages to woo more of this age group and that approach has made an impact. The agency now has 230,000 friends on Facebook, and the number is growing by about 3,000 a day.
Focus group research says Ireland is fun, friendly, relaxed, beautiful, and photogenic. How true. It is a most beautiful island and we were happy to see that the tourist numbers seem to be on the rise.
Last spring, we attended the official opening of the Greenway-Cycleway that currently runs from Newport to Mulranny, so we were delighted to hear that the trail will be opened along its full length from Westport to Achill later this month providing residents and tourists with a 42-km almost entirely off-road cycling and walking path.
The Greenway follows the abandoned railway line that once ran from Westport to the Achill Sound terminal, just before the Michael Davitt Bridge to the island and across the road from the Óstán Oileán Acla/Achill Island Hotel. The old railway was in place from 1894 to 1937 and its most famous feature is the viaduct over the Newport River at the bottom of the main street in Newport, near The Granuaille pub and Newport Post Office and across from the entryway to Newport House, a well-known manor house hotel.
Any energetic souls interested in taking a spin along the Greenway-Cycleway can rent bicycles in Newport and Westport.
If you have never visited this area of Ireland, it is very highly recommended – especially Achill Island. I spend most of my time in this area and it is delightful as well as beautiful, has wonderful food, music, shopping, and much, much more.
We recently received a booklet from DuVine Adventures that included a “moderately difficult” bike ride through magnificent Connemara. Trips are scheduled in May, throughout the summer months, September, and October.
The trip starts and ends in Galway and sites visited along the way include Kylemore Abbey, Roundstone, Clifden, and Ireland’s only fjord, Killary Harbour, which is a natural boundary between Counties Galway and Mayo. The scenery along those routes is amazing and there’s a great little sheep and wool museum in Leenane at the head of the harbor where it’s fun to stop, enjoy the exhibits and homemade food – the quiche is great. Another very nice restaurant in Leenane that I’ve visited and enjoyed many times is The Blackberry Café and Restaurant right on the main route, the N59, just as you enter Leenane. There’s ample parking across the street.
For more information about this and other tours offered by DuVine, visit their website at duvine.com or call 888-396-5383. The company also offers tailor-made trips such as group or family travel, solo travel, yoga bike adventures, and a chef-on-wheels series where a chef joins your luxury bike tour. Guides, bikes, and van support are provided with all these DuVine tours.
Ireland is abloom after a long, cold, snowy winter. Doors and windows have been flung open to welcome the fresh air of spring and Ireland is ready and waiting for visitors.
Enjoy your trip whenever and wherever you go and don’t forget to check the internet for the latest travel specials, especially air and ground deals with Aer Lingus and other international carriers. Check also with your favorite travel agent.
And, when you’re in Ireland, be sure to stop by the Failte Ireland tourist board offices (marked with a big green shamrock) for details about festivals and other activities, to secure accommodation and learn about the area in which you’re traveling.