Rise in cultural and heritage visitors


VISITORS FLOCKED to the State’s leading cultural institutions and heritage sites in record numbers last year, defying the recession and the difficulties in the tourism sector.

Overall visitor numbers to cultural venues reached 3.61 million last year, up from 3.25 million in 2009. Another 3.44 million people visited heritage sites operated by the Office of Public Works in 2011, up from 3.26 million two years earlier.

The country’s most popular free cultural attraction remains the National Gallery in Dublin, which recorded more than 624,000 admissions. This was down over 100,000 on the previous year. It was followed by the National Museum on Kildare Street with 402,000 visitors, though when the various buildings of the museum in Dublin and Co Mayo are considered together, it had total admissions of 1.1 million.

Museum director Pat Wallace, who is retiring, this week criticised budget cuts which he said were “disastrous” for the institution.

The Irish Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham attracted 393,000 visitors last year, though the main building closed for renovation works in November. It is due to remain closed until February next year. The National Concert Hall attracted 293,000 paying customers during the year, while a relative newcomer to Dublin’s cultural attractions, the Science Gallery in Trinity College, attracted a creditable 242,000 visitors.

The list provided by Minister for Arts, Heritage and Culture Jimmy Deenihan does not include institutions such as the Guinness Storehouse and Dublin Zoo which have an admission charge.

Mr Deenihan said initiatives to attract the public and enhance visitor experience would remain a priority for all the cultural institutions and venues.

Of the 69 manned heritage sites operated by the OPW, the most popular was Dublin’s Botanic Gardens, with 501,000 visitors, down from 545,000 in 2009. Farmleigh, which was controversially acquired by the State from the Guinness family for over €29 million in 1999, is proving a big hit with the public. Admissions to the house reached 316,000 last year, up from 246,000 in 2009. The nearby Phoenix Park visitor centre has also mushroomed in popularity with admission up from 83,000 to 121,000 in a couple of years. Meanwhile, 6,000 people toured Áras an Uachtaráin.

Visitor figures for a number of leading sites, including the Rock of Cashel, Dublin Castle and Kilmainham Gaol, grew again in 2011 after dipping the year before. There were falls for the Blasket Islands, Skellig Michael, the Battle of the Boyne site and Dún Aonghasa on Inis Mór. The quietest site was Scattery Island, a monastic settlement in the mouth of the Shannon, which was visited by 1,344 people during the year.