TOURISM is important to every corner of the country, Michael Ring, the Minister of State for Tourism and Sport declared when he officially opened the new maritime section of the Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum. And he referred to the fact the the museum now supports 16 jobs.
He was also enthusiastic in declaring that The Gathering had turned out to be a success story. “It worked in every corner of the country,” he said. And he thanked the people of Limerick for their response to The Gathering project.
But, in an aside which drew laughter, he also thanked Gabriel Byrne and others who had raised criticisms of it. “They gave us the kind of publicity we couldn’t buy,” he said.
In the first six months of this year, Minister Ring continued, there had been an increase of 7% in visitor numbers to Ireland. The increase from the US was in the order of 18.5% and there was a 9% increase from Europe. Tourism projects, he argued, did not all have to be massive ones. “Ye have it here,” he said, referring to the Foynes museum. “This is a fabulous facility.”
And he thanked all those who continue to work away at different projects, “doing the best we can for our country”.. “On behalf of the Government, thank you very much,” he said.
“We are looking at ways and means of bringing people into country,” he continued, explaining that one of these was the Wild Atlantic Way connecting the western seaboard counties, including Limerick. And people would come, he predicted. “We have a great people, we have a great product, great food, great culture. Sometimes too many people spend too long knocking what we have,” he went on.
But he urged people: “Keep selling the positive message. There is a great love out there for Ireland. Give them the welcome they deserve. Give them a bit of respect. Give them value for money.”
The new maritime section “completes the circle”, chairman of the museum board, Brian Cullen said, speaking at the opening ceremony. Way back in 1987, he recalled, the intention and vision had been to create a Flying Boat and Aviation Museum.
“We had to concentrate initially on the aviation side but we always had in mind to add on the maritime side,” he told the invited audience.
The aviation part is really a commemoration and acknowledgement of the very important contribution the Flying Boat era in Foynes made to international and global aviation travel, Mr Cullen pointed out. “The maritime depicts the local scene from Limerick down the estuary. It is the story of lives and the effect the port had and and continues to have on the local area.”
In the 25 years since the museum was conceived, the total investment had been €4.5m, Mr Cullen said. It now supports 16 jobs, he pointed out and so far this season alone, 40,000 visitors have come through the door. Initially, the museum occupied just a few rooms in a building owned by the Foynes Harbour Commissioners. Now, it occupies the entire building.
Cathaoirleach John Sheahan predicted exciting times ahead for the Shannon Estuary. “Things are looking good,” he said. There are now two very good plans in place in relation to the estuary, he pointed out: the Shannon Foynes Port Company’s ambitious 30-year plan and the Shannon Integrated Framework Plan which he said was very much oriented towards developing jobs in industry, tourism, aquaculture and energy. In addition, there was the plan for a new road link to Foynes. “This is all good for this side of the world,” the Glin-councillor said.
He went on to praise the Foynes museum as a tourist product that was second to none. The museum had been driven forward under Margaret O’Shaughnessy and the numbers of visitors had increased, the Cathaoirleach said. “It has now become a great asset. We wouldn’t be on the Wild Atlantic Way only for having a place like the Flying Boat and Maritime Musuem.”
“We have a fabulous estuary and a great history,” he continued. “We have a big story to tell and to get out to the international community.”
On a more sombre note, both the Minister and Brian Cullen referred to the death of former Minister Michael J Noonan and to the death of Tom McInerney both of whom were members of the museum board. And they extended condolences to both men’s families.