*Mountshannon Harbour. Photograph: John Mangan
Clare could be set to receive millions of euros worth of funding under the Shannon Tourism Master Plan.
Developed by Waterways Ireland, Fáilte Ireland and local authorities in the Shannon region including Clare County Council, the plan was launched earlier this month. It is estimated that it will cost €76 million across 10 years to cover the proposed works. While the specific level of funding in each county is not detailed in the plan multiple towns and villages across Clare have been named for inclusion in the project.
Launched by Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin (GP) and Minister for Local Government Darragh O’Brien (FF) the plan aims to develop tourism in areas within 5km of the River Shannon as part of the wider ‘Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands’ tourism campaign.
Holy Island also known as Inis Cealtra is one of the key areas for development in Clare with the construction of a visitor centre at Mountshannon with guided access to the island recommended. The plan highlights the immediate need for tourism development in this area saying “It is strongly recommended that the recommendations of the VMP (Validation Master Plan) for Holy Island be expedited as soon as possible.” The plan also suggests linking in Mountshannon Arts Festival with a proposed larger Shannon wide festival called ‘The Shannon Rolling Wave Festival of Arts.’
Other areas close to Mountshannon are also expected to receive tourism development such as Killaloe and Scarrif which will be included in a feasibility study for a ‘Shannon Greenway’ that would link to Limerick via Clonlara, Ardnacrusha, O’Briensbridge and Tuamgraney.
Ardnacrusha could also see the power station there receive a visitor centre. A feasibility study is again recommended for this project. The plan highlights the cultural and historical importance of the Ardnacrusha hydro-electric power station calling it an “icon of Irish industrial independence” but it also draws attention several problems which would need to be overcome before it could be opened up to tourists including capacity issues and the impact on heritage assets, water quality and designated sites.
The creation of boating routes known as ‘Blueways’ connecting towns and villages through Lough Derg is also proposed. The tourism possibilities of Lough Derg on account of the lake’s renown for angling, sailing and water sports as well as the “superb views and birdwatching opportunities while hiking along the Lough Derg way” were mentioned in the report.
The intention of the plan is to develop the Shannon region through environmentally friendly and sustainable means as it is essential to “ensure that the implementation of the Shannon Tourism Masterplan facilitates the protection and enhancement of the environment as the fundamental asset that is the basis of tourism in the region.”
The plan also highlights how the natural and outdoor amenities of Clare and other counties along the river are the basis for the entire plan. As it sets out in its introduction “The River Shannon is, with its many natural assets, well placed to capitalise on the growing trend for non-extreme outdoor activities such as walking, cycling, kayaking, boating, fishing, wildlife-watching, camping and glamping. Visitor experiences on the Shannon should encourage visitors to be active in nature.”
In total there will be 140 separate developments along the River Shannon across the next 10 years. The hope is these new attractions will promote the ‘Irelands Hidden Heartlands’ initiative, a project set up in April 2018 to mimic the success of the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’. It is estimated The Shannon Tourism Masterplan will bring 500,000 more visitors to the region.
An upsurge in interest of that scale in ‘Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands’ has the potential to put the Clare tourism sector in a very prosperous position as one of only two counties to fall under both the ‘Hidden Heartlands’ and ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ projects.