Only a few years ago, Rosslare Harbour could remain clear for much of each day but now it is common to see little fleets of ships making their way toward the southeast coastline.
It’s a “magical” sight, hotelier Bill Kelly tells The Irish Times as the southeastern port’s expansion continues apace post-Brexit.
Witnessing the “conveyor belt of traffic” that now goes in and out of Rosslare Europort, he says: “You can’t look at the harbour now without seeing five or six boats around. It’s just not what we had in the past.”
As the closest EU port to mainland Europe, Rosslare has achieved success by allowing traders trying to avoid border chaos through Britain’s ports, carrying off a remarkable 371 per cent annual increase in European freight last year.
The latest development takes place on Friday with a passenger service directly linking Co Wexford to Dunkirk in northern France.
It is being operated by leading Danish ferry company DFDS, which opened the Rosslare-Dunkirk route 18 months ago for commercial goods. The company said it had found “strong demand” from holidaymakers in Ireland and in northern Europe for passenger services.
The new route is a trial, which is expected to last for about six months, with room for ten cars or motorhomes per departure. Crossings on the DFDS ship, the Regina Seaways, take 23 hours and 45 minutes. Cabin accommodation is available and meals are included in the ticket price – the first departure is 11.45pm on Friday.
DFDS will examine feedback with “a view to increase capacity in the future”, its global media spokeswoman Kathrine Reippurt says, adding it may be expanded to include foot passengers who are travelling that bit lighter.
“We’re seeing strong demand for coach services from customers and are looking into different ways of introducing this option in the future.”
According to Glenn Carr, manager of the Europort, the route should succeed, taking passengers “to the heart of Europe, just 12km from the Belgian border”.
“The frequency of a direct service like this makes Ireland much more connected and it makes Wexford much more connected,” says Carr. “We think it will appeal to people who are trying for more sustainable green holidays and it is obviously much more hassle-free taking a ferry when you look at the challenges faced by airports lately.”
There are also hopes that traffic will be enticed in the other direction.
‘Very real market’
Bill Kelly, who runs the four-star resort Kelly’s in Rosslare, explains that the region’s market has been driven by the domestic market. “But this new route is an opportunity to try and attract people from the continent into the southeast, away from the west of Ireland which has been so good at drawing people in historically.”
Going toe-to-toe with the west is no easy feat. However, Colm Neville, who is a director of Visit Wexford and runs several hotels himself in the southeast, says research last year with Wexford County Council found strong interest from France and Spain.
“It’s a no-brainer I think, there is a very real market there. We’re already seeing it in the hotels, there’s more French and Spanish that we never really saw before.”
Kelly believes the focus needs to be on developing greenway routes in Wexford and linking them to Waterford and Kilkenny, with the green light recently given for extending the cycle route to Rosslare.
Those efforts can keep tourists within its bounds, according to Neville. “Wexford’s assets are Kilkenny and its castle, it’s Waterford city and the Viking Triangle. We need to develop the greenways to connect these better while improving our own trails around Co Wexford.”
Relying on that old slogan of “sunny southeast” is not an option, however. “If they’re coming from San Sebastian or Bilbao, they don’t need to be told how great it is to lie out on Curracloe beach – our water is usually cold and they’ve left the sunshine behind them,” says Neville with a laugh. “But we definitely have other things to offer them.”