Thursday, June 13, 2024

We all want tourists to visit the Hidden Heartlands but how many of its top attractions could you name?

It’s hard to be envious of the people who are trying to expose Ireland’s ‘Hidden Heartland’ who know that not enough tourists are coming to the Midlands region.

When one looks at what is available, when one looks at the beauty, history and heritage of the region, it has so much to offer.

Still, too few tourists spend time here and so efforts by Westmeath County Council’s Tourism Officer, Una Doris, are to be admired even if the task she and her team faces is formidable.

Everyone will have their own theory as to why overseas visitors tend to stick to the coastline of this Ireland; what is clear, though, is that when making a list of the attractions in the Midlands, and specifically Westmeath, the list slows down after Belevedere House and the lakes.

Some people will mention the canal, which really means the Greenways (and a lot of work has been done and contines to be done on those), a distillery will be mentioned, and maybe a pewter company. But then?

Speaking at a local authority meeting last week, Una Doris said the overall vision for tourism in Westmeath is to establish an “enterprising, resilient and thriving tourism industry that is connected in collaboration to the most vibrant and sustainable visitor destinations” in Westmeath.

‘Surely marketing the county means being specific about its attractions…but apart from the obvious two, what are they?’

A new strategy promises to “market the county to potential tourists and supporting existing tourism businesses in the area”. Surely marketing the county means being specific about its attractions…but apart from the obvious two, what are they? Are they even known to people who live in Westmeath?

We asked the world’s best friend, Google, to tell us the top 10 attractions in Westmeath. Here they are, but how many of them would you have known about or recommended to an overseas visitor…

• Athlone Castle.
• Viking Tours Ireland (the Shannon and Lough Ree).
• The Old Trail Greenway.
• Dún na Sí Heritage Park.
• Kilbeggan Distillery.
• The Hill of Uisneach.
• Lough Ennell.
• Belvedere House & Garden.
• Tullynally Castle.
• The Royal Canal Greenway.

From those 10, take away the Greenways, Belvedere House and the Distillery (because they’re obvious) and you’re left with six. Just six.

It’s clear that the Council is very serious, alongside Fáilte Ireland, in promoting the Hidden Heartlands, but perhaps one of the first jobs is to identify all of the possible attractions and make more of the people of the Midlands aware of them – their location, history and heritage value.

It’s clear also from the last Census results (those published to date) that a lot of people living in the Midlands are not indigenous to the area. They have as much right – and responsiblity – as everyone else to know more about where they live, and not just their village or town, but their region.

We wish Westmeath County Council and Fáilte Ireland well as they continue to work on a new tourism strategy for the Hidden Heartlands, and we are sure that they already know what we suspect – the people of this region don’t know enough about it, and really, isn’t that where education should begin – at home?

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