Repositioning the River Shannon as “a key tourism destination” has been detailed as a fundamental aim of the Shannon Tourism Masterplan.
Western regional manager with Waterways Ireland, Éanna Rowe described the plan as “a real step change for tourism” in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands. The masterplan was compiled following consultation with Fáilre Ireland and ten local authorities including Clare County Council.
Addressing a briefing of Clare County Council on Monday, Éanna noted that was “the first time a single holistic plan for the River Shannon” was developed. “We wanted to deliver a co-ordinated strategy to reposition the Shannon as a key tourism destination”. Further goals included the identification of a world class visitor experience and to define the area’s unique tourism offering.
“We came up with the vision for the might Shannon to become Ireland’s surprising heart,” Rowe stated. “Its environment is a special and unique product, it is one we want to develop but to develop in a sustainable way”. He detailed that the 360 linear kilometres of the River Shannon includes three large lakes and three distinct discovery zones.
Seven strategic initiatives have been recognised as the “catalyst for informing implementation” of the plan, he said. They include the creation of signature points to boost the messaging and communication, enhancing the on-water visitor experiences by rejuvenating cruise hire, improving marina and berthing facilities, the introduction of tranquillity zones and building the blueway network.
Waterside visitor experiences can be boosted by focusing on harbours, amenities, infrastructure, lesser used waterways and more usage of historic buildings in public ownership around Lough Derg. Villages and towns along the Shannon will also benefit, the strategy flagged with the mobility plan for Killaloe and Ballina part of this work.
Protecting the environment of the River Shannon is another strategic initiative, this will explore “how bogs can be revitalised” in the Midlands. Improving connectivity via the encouragement of sustainable and slow travel, trails, better public transport and slow on-water travel is earmarked. Interaction at community level is viewed as “crucial” to the Shannon’s potential in the tourism space to ensure “the visitor will go back with a wonderful experience of being immersed in the community”.
Work on the Shannon Discovery Points has already started in Clare in what Éanna called “an early win”. He explained, “We try to create areas where we arrest the visitor and get them to enjoy the vista or piece of history by storytelling or picture”.
Chief Executive of Clare County Council, Pat Dowling praised the working relationship between the local authority and Waterways Ireland. The seven initiatives “feeds as an oversight to our own county tourism plan which took a lot of work and I think they gel very well together but more importantly it helps us to rebalance our tourism network in Clare”.
Dowling predicted, “Clare County Council’s tourism portfolio is only going to go in one direction, it is going to grow, it will develop and expand. Lots of people talk about tourism, there are a lot of strategies and consultants but Clare County Council is delivering on the ground, we may not get it right all the time but I think we will 90% of the time”.
“I’ve said it for many years, the greatest natural resource on the East coast of the county is the River Shannon,” Cllr Tony O’Brien (FF) remarked.
Objections to tranquillity moorings were labelled disappointing by Cllr Pat Burke (FG). “Dromaan Harbour is a tranquility mooring as it is without any commercial aspect”.