Sights for bored eyes
The Skyline at Croke Park
Hag's Head at the Cliffs of Moher
Safari at Tralee Bay Wetlands
Irish tourism has had a makeover, with all sorts of new attractions on offer, writes JOHN G O'DWYER
Time was when we thought we’d get instantly wealthy by selling bits of Ireland to each other on an endless national merry-go-round and then building cash-cow hotels with the proceeds. Unsurprisingly, many of these are now as eerily unpopulated as lounge bars on Good Friday. Slowly, the realisation is dawning on us that maintaining a vibrant tourism industry requires elbow grease. No longer is it possible to rely exclusively on the old, inexpensive stalwarts of people, place and pace to fill Ireland’s over-abundant bedrooms.
The once immutable face of Irish tourism is being given a makeover as we belatedly reach into our pockets to create world-class experiences. From the Burren to Belfast and Waterford to Westmeath, visitor attractions are springing up. So now is a great time to put that overseas break on hold and experience instead what is new and captivating in the Irish landscape.
Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast
A working prison until 1996, it has been intertwined with Northern Ireland’s troublesome history since 1846. The recently re-opened gaol offers guided tours that are vivid with characterisation and dotted with references to household-name politicians who spent time inside as “guests” of the Queen. The visit to the eerie underground tunnel, which conveyed prisoners to the now burned-out courthouse, is memorable. Most emotional is the condemned cell and execution room, where the original rope is still in place as an ongoing testament to the barbarity of capital punishment. crumlinroadgaol.com; adults £7.50, concession £5.50, family £22.00.
Waterford Medieval Museum
Located between Cathedral Square and the Bishop’s Palace, Waterford’s new medieval museum recreates life as it was in the city during the Middle Ages. Several medieval structures, including the unforgettable Chorister’s Hall, are integrated within. Along with Reginald’s Tower and the Bishop’s Palace, the museum provides a compelling experience, with live actors playing medieval characters. waterfordtreasures.com/medieval-museum; adults €5, senior/ student €4, family €10.
Causeway Visitor Centre, Co Antrim
When a major new visitor centre was proposed for the Giant’s Causeway an immediate hullabaloo arose between creationists and geologists about its origins. Are its unique basalt columns the result of a volcanic explosion? Were they created by the almighty? Or perhaps built by Fionn Mac Cumhail as a path to Scotland?
The controversy ended with all explanations being offered in the visitor centre, which has been seamlessly integrated with the surrounding landscape. Inside, the centre offers interactive information on the area’s abundant myths, rich history and unique geology. nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway; adults £8.50, children £4.25 (Giant’s Causeway remains free of charge).
Tralee Bay Wetlands, Co Kerry
Kerry has been given a great geographic hand and its citizenry have long been renowned for playing it to full advantage. The latest innovative ace they’ve played is the Tralee Wetlands Experience, which is accessed via the eco-friendly visitor centre. Here, the diversity of the Tralee Bay ecosystem is explained using interactive displays, audiovisual presentations and hands-on activities. Also included is a safari boat trip through the wetlands and access to a 20m high viewing tower with panoramic views of Tralee Bay. discoverireland.ie; adults €6, children €4, OAP/student €5, family €20.