I often wondered why so many people from the USA, Canada and even from the UK and Europe come to Ireland and use coach tours to discover it. I used to take so much for granted. I have lived most of my life in south Co Dublin and have had the mountains of Wicklow and the plains of Kildare on my doorstep. I played sport and quietly enjoyed the car trips to the ‘away’ games to the point of simply not appreciating how nice it was to grow up here.
Then I did all of the usual things – graduated from university, worked for a while in Ireland and emigrated. Working and travelling throughout the world, whenever I came back to Ireland I began to take a little more interest in the historical landscape I grew up in. In 2003, I returned to Ireland.
Nowadays, I have an American wife and a 10 year old son and they just love exploring Ireland. My mother-in-law, whenever she visited, used to go on and on about the wild ferns and the stonewalls … and the loose farm animals that wander along the side of the road, grazing ‘the long acre’ and seeming oblivious to the many cars that slow down to get past them.
Both America and Canada do have a fabulous wealth of historical and archaeological sites but they are spread thinly throughout a vast, often inaccessible landscape. The advantage we have here in Ireland is that we are on a small island and our sites are relatively close together – something not always appreciated by the Irish themselves. This, it seems, is why the tourists love Ireland so much.
Fáilte Ireland are now promoting a new tourist train – the Wild Atlantic Way – Ireland’s first long-distance touring route, stretching along the Atlantic coast from Malin Head in Co Donegal to Mizen Head in West Co Cork. The route includes over 500 visitor attractions, as well as 53 Blue Flag beaches, 120 golf courses and 50 loop walks – a cultural tourist’s dream – with thousands of Irish restaurants, hotels and pubs along the way.
We’ve come a long way since the late 1980s when I left Ireland in terms of food tourism and the sheer range of wild and farmed foods is astounding. Every county in Ireland now has luxury and specialist food production, cookery schools for all levels and ambitions. The arts, crafts and leisure industries have not stayed behind either and nowadays Ireland hosts cultural, heritage, adventure and nature tourists from all over the world.
To drive the mazy 2,500km (or 1,560 miles) of jagged coastline in one trip would be truly ambitious, so the folks in Fáilte Ireland are marketing it to the coach tour industry and report that 15 major tour operators in Germany, America, Britain and France have already begun marketing holidays to the Wild Atlantic Way – which should bring tens of thousands of visitors in its first year. The immensely successful “Gathering of 2013” brought huge numbers of the Irish Diaspora ‘home’ for the first time, so it will be interesting to see how this venture compares.
Obviously, the indigenous Irish coach tour operators are not far behind in their efforts to attract new customers and their challenge will be to entice people with a range of scenic, heritage, cultural and historical content – utilising their intimate knowledge of the local landscape and the best of Irish hotels and places to eat or drink.
We will captivate your imagination and bring you the authentic story of Ireland.
by Pure Ireland Experience, Escorted coach tour operator with 5 exhilarating scenic, historical and cultural tours
Driving the Wild Atlantic Way on the West Coast of Ireland
by Don Mankin, Travel writer, blogger and author