IMPROVED access into Shannon Airport from the USA has contributed to a double-digit increase in visitors to medieval banquets at Bunratty Castle this year.
Day visitor attractions run by Shannon Heritage - including Bunratty Castle and Folk Park - have seen a more modest increase in numbers in the order of 3 or 4% during 2013.
But Shannon Heritage chief executive officer John Ruddle said the numbers attending the banquets in Bunratty, Knappogue and elsewhere had risen by a multiple of that.
“It has been a very good year actually. We’ll be up about 12% on 2012 which is great news. I would say overall at the banquets we would probably have 85,000 people across the four venues. I think part of the reason for that has been the success at Shannon Airport this year. There has been a lot of additional access in from the USA and of course a lot of additional access into Ireland in general. Of course with economies around the world picking up a bit as well, that is good news for us too,” said Mr Ruddle.
This is the 50th year of banquets at Bunratty and demand during peak season was such that the venue was double booked for the medieval feasts every evening into the month of November.
The pick-up in business for Shannon Heritage, Mr Ruddle, had a more international profile and banquet bookings from the domestic corporate sector were described as slow.
The investment in King John’s Castle was paying off, Mr Ruddle said and that “brand new attraction in Limerick has more than doubled its numbers this year, up 120% on last year as a result of that investment”.
Shannon Heritage had also expanded out of the Shannon region for the first time by reaching a deal to manage Malahide Castle and Gardens in Dublin, a venture Mr Ruddle said was going well.
It was the art dealer and medievalist the late John Hunt who decorated the Great Hall in Bunratty where tourists enjoy the banquets. It was also the venue for the recent launch of Brian O’Connell’s biography of Hunt. A former chairman of Shannon Heritage, Mr O’Connell congratulated John Ruddle and his team for the success in this, their 50th season of welcoming tourists to Bunratty.
And the restructuring of Shannon Development, which will see Shannon Heritage become part of the Shannon Group plc was merely returning the heritage company to its roots.
“Shannon Heritage is to be a vital new component of the Shannon Group structure under the leadership of Rose Hynes and once again closely linked with Shannon Airport as in the early Brendan O’Regan years,” Mr O’Connell said.
“I’m sure it will deliver on the key opportunity to spearhead the drive for greater cultural tourism in this region for many years to come.”