Pictured is the Great Lighthouses of Ireland delegation at Loop Head Peninsula in County Clare, joined by Irish Lights Chief Executive Yvonne Shields O’Connor and Clare County Council Chief Executive Pat Dowling.

OVER FORTY tourism representatives have travelled to Clare to explore projects in the field which have served as engines of economic and social progress for rural communities.

Loop Head Lighthouse Experience and the wider peninsula is the key focus of the annual Great Lighthouses of Ireland networking event, which is being hosted this year by Clare County Council.

The visit takes place in the context of the recently submitted application to An Bord Pleanála for the development of new visitor experience facilities at Loop Head Lighthouse Experience, which include new visitor centre facilities, a Looped Walking Trail network, and the construction of a new visitors’ carpark. The facility also has recently undergone upgrades to its visitor centre and Keeper’s Cottages courtesy of funding from the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund.

Established by Irish Lights, over eight years ago, Great Lighthouses of Ireland is a significant all-island tourism partnership, currently representing 16 entities, including local authorities, community groups and government agencies.

Speaking at the launch of the event, Irish Lights Chief Executive Yvonne Shields O’Connor noted that the 17 experiences in the partnership have over 155,000 annual visitors. “While Irish Lights’ core remit is to protect lives, property, trade and the environment at sea, we are in a privileged position as we fulfil our role as guardians of lighthouses around the coast of Ireland, north and south. We are passionate about supporting these heritage locations to be opened to the public so that visitors can experience the rich heritage and history that stems not only from the lighthouses, but also from the communities around them”.

Cllr Tony O’Brien (FF), Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council welcomed the visiting delegation on Sunday’s familiarisation trip to Scattery Island and gave recognition to the “opportunity to spend time on this island in order to promote the significance of this important attraction and its place of national significance in culture and history”.

Monday’s activities got underway with a ‘Connecting Communities’ workshop at Cross Digital Hub. Presentations were made by Pat Dowling (Chief Executive, Clare County Council), Yvonne Shields O’Connor, Bobby Kerr (Chair, Great Lighthouses of Ireland), Travel Writer Pól Ó Conghaile, and representatives of Fáilte Ireland and Tourism NI, while an interactive session on developing the opportunity for lighthouses and local destinations through coastal tourism activities was delivered by Mark O’Connell of Repucon Consulting, all co-ordinated by Ethna Murphy of Great Lighthouses of Ireland.

Participants were also treated to a site visit to Loop Head Lighthouse Visitor Experience, where they were joined by Cllr Gabriel Keating (FG), Luke Aston (Loop Head Tourism), Colette Costello (Head of Operations, Loop Head Lighthouse and Vandeleur Walled Gardens), and Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF), who spoke about responsible tourism development throughout the wider Loop Head Peninsula.

Council Chief Executive, Pat Dowling said the networking event “provided key tourism agencies and local tourism representatives with the opportunity to share information and expertise that can support each business advance their objectives and help serve the communities and stakeholders they represent”. He maintained Loop Head Lighthouse was “bearing fruit for surrounding communities of the peninsula in terms of profile and the local economy”.

On Tuesday, the tourism delegation departed Kilkee for Ennistymon Digital Hub before visiting the Cliffs of Moher Experience where Leonard Cleary, Director of Service for Rural Development spoke about creating a vision and sustainable future in the context of the Cliffs of Moher Strategy 2040. A primary objective of the long-term strategy and site masterplan for Ireland’s most visited natural attraction is the delivery of economic benefit for the wider region. This event was organised in conjunction with Kilkee Enterprise Development Company.

Cllr Cillian Murphy outlined that Kilkee Chamber of Commerce was delighted to welcome the Great Lighthouses of Ireland and their partners to Kilkee for their annual gathering and networking event. He explained that the Enterprise Development Company was working “to put together an exciting programme that highlights our unique location, the challenges around sustainable management of the Loop Head Lighthouse and the Loop Head Peninsula, and the importance of community involvement in the responsible management and development of tourism for the area”.

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