There is history and tourism beyond The Pale

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

There is history and tourism beyond The Pale

Lough Gur is being included in the 'Ancient East' campaign. After being snubbed by the Wild Atlantic Way, it is about time Limerick got something from Failte Ireland, Patricia believes

HEAVENS above, we nearly missed the boat again! But by some kind of geographic miracle – a minor movement of tectonic plates perhaps – a part of Limerick has finally made it to the hallowed and potentially rich pastures of Ireland’s ‘Ancient East’ - Bord Fáilte’s latest tourism marketing brainwave.

Take a bow, Ballyhoura, because if it hadn’t happened, prehistoric Lough Gur - like many another awesome spot - would have been left high and dry in an arid no-man’s land, somewhere between the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ and the eastern realms of antiquity. Now wouldn’t that have been a real travesty?

The development, of course, comes as a huge relief to the Kilmallock/Cappamore municipal district of the County Council, which by the way, didn’t even exist when I was covering the area for the Leader. They were two completely separate geographic and geological entities then, and only came together every Monday morning at Kilmallock Mart, and every summer in the hurling championship, of course.

They missed out on the Wild Atlantic Way – Bord Failte’s most successful tourism project since the Wild Milesians started sailing up from the Bay of Biscay. Personally I think they merited inclusion because of the wild Atlantic salmon connection with its spawning grounds on the Mulcair River.

Deep down, however, I don’t like this ‘Ancient East’ lark one bit. It gives the impression that all of our antiquity is based in the East and that the rest of the country was largely uninhabited until Bord Failte discovered the Cliffs of Moher. There is an air of artificiality about it that reminds me of nothing so much as the unnecessary interpretative centre they built at the same cliffs a few years ago. How the N20 roadway came to be one of the land borders of the ancient east is a complete mystery to me because most of that wasn’t there either when I was covering the area for the Leader, and it certainly wasn’t there when the monks were painstakingly fashioning the magnificent Ardagh Chalice. Not to worry, Ardagh may be on the wrong side of the N20, but the chalice itself has been residing in Dublin for so long now that it has become a naturalised eastern treasure.

Whenever I look at Bord Fáilte’s map of the Ancient East, I get all disorientated. But then I was never very good at geography and maps were always a particular challenge to me. I can imagine myself getting hopelessy lost on the ancient highways with a compass that is of no use because of east being west and west being east in Bord Fáilte’s book. Also, it seems to me as if the infamous Pale has expanded overnight and swallowed the most interesting parts of the Mid West. If we’re not careful we’ll develop an identity crisis and start shouting for Dublin in the hurling championship.

The first time I had misgivings about the ‘Ancient East’ was last year when I discovered that the Rock of Cashel had been appropriated in the newly drawn map of the East. It made me feel slightly uprooted and madly territorial. Immediately I suspected that the new strategy was designed primarily to enhance Dublin’s tourism potential – a kind of antidote to the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’, which has been successful beyond all expectations. The kings of Munster would be turning in their graves on the rock, I thought. Not so, however. It seems that they’re delighted to have been included or maybe they’re completely indifferent to the whole thing, like the GAA, which has already placed Galway in Leinster.

Happily, some things are sacred. I can’t find any trace of Killaloe, the ancient capital of Ireland, on the new map of the ‘Ancient East’. Either, they’ve forgotten about us or Brian Boru still wields some influence with the Dublin Vikings. The town isn’t on the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ either, but that’s not surprising seeing that we’re not even tidal. But does this mean that one of the most historic and scenic towns in the country will not benefit one whit from the extra 600,000 overseas visitors expected to be attracted by the new ‘Ancient East' , having already lost out on the millions flocking to the Wild Atlantic Way.

What can I say, but this? Bring back ‘Shannonside Tourism’ the old Mid-West Tourism body which operated in the ancient times when I was reporting for the Leader. Admittedly, I didn’t always see eye to eye with them either, being of the opinion that the Rent An Irish Cottage scheme was a bit of a parody on our mud walled past and that nobody really gave a toss anymore about Sarsfield’s Midnight Ride to Ballyneety.

However, they did bring the Mid-West to the notice of many holiday-makers and helped to put some of the region’s most charming villages on the map. They were subsumed by Shannon Development, and to be honest, they were never the same again.

Sometimes, even now, when I visit the ancient megalithic tombs and mysterious stone circles that dot the hills around Rearcross and see the old Shannonside signs, broken and weather-beaten, that indicate the real antiquity which distinguishes the place, I wonder if we shouldn’t take the reins of our tourism potential back into our own hands again and flaunt our assets unapologetically to the world. And while we’re at it, re-claim the Ardagh Chalice as well.

For all that, the ‘Ancient East’ may well prove a huge success and I’ll be eating my words - again. But I am sceptical. They are offering a ‘cohesive and unified’ tourism destination. But there is nothing unified about putting Limerick and Tipperary east of Eden. Maybe if they left out the word ‘east’, there might be some hope of unity. But then the whole purpose of the exercise would be lost, presumably.

But they are also offering an ‘umbrella destination’, and with the rain pelting down, as I write, all over the land, as the snow once fell in Joyce’s The Dead, maybe it’s not as daft as I think it is, being part of the Ancient East for tourism purposes.