Ministers Donohoe & Ring launch ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’

14th April, 2015

Fáilte Ireland plan for east and south of Ireland with similar scale and ambition as Wild Atlantic Way will maximise history & heritage of region


The Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport, Paschal Donohoe TD, together with Minister of State, Michael Ring TD, today (Tuesday) officially launched Ireland’s Ancient East, Fáilte Ireland’s latest tourism initiative which will build on the wealth of historical and cultural assets in the east and south of Ireland.


Crucially, Ireland’s Ancient East is geared to maximise the history and heritage in the region and bring it to greater international attention. To do this, the new initiative will offer visitors a personal experience of 5000 years of history through a relaxing journey of discovery in the beautiful landscape that attracted warring settlers for millennia and illuminated by stories from the best storytellers in the world – the local people. Stretching from Newgrange and the Boyne Valley in the north east and ranging through the midlands all the way down via Kilkenny’s Medieval mile to Waterford’s Viking Quarter and Cork’s many cultural attractions, the new brand proposition is intended to match and complement the Wild Atlantic Way in terms of scale and ambition. You can read more about it in an illustrated fact sheet.

Based on comprehensive research in overseas markets, the initiative is aimed at particular market segments overseas (identified by the research) who have indicated they would be more likely to come to Ireland to explore new landscapes, history and culture or simply to take time out from their busy lives and careers to connect with local heritage and nature and their own place within.

To illustrate the strength of Ireland’s Ancient East’s appeal for these market segments, Fáilte Ireland recently produced a short Videoexplaining the brand to international travel agents and operators attending its annual trade fair, Meitheal. Fáilte Ireland’s  research suggests that an initiative themed along these lines has the potential to deliver an extra 600,000 overseas visitors (growth of more than 20%) to the region and increase visitor revenue by almost 25% to €950m in total by 2020.

Officially launching Ireland’s Ancient East, Minister Donohoe today said:

“Recent growth in visitor numbers has confirmed Ireland is a popular destination. However, the market research tells us that there is potentially a lot more growth out there if we pitch our best assets to those segments with the most potential. Indeed, when I recently launched our new national tourism policy, ‘People Places and Policy’, I emphasised that we would need to continue developing projects that were both big enough and attractive to help us cut through to compete in international markets.

“With the great amount of history and heritage in such a relatively compact area, ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’ will allow us to seriously build on the assets we have in the east and south – and the significant investment which has been made in tourism attractions in the region over the last few years. While appealing to a different type of a visitor, I am confident that Ireland’s Ancient East will prove as effective and popular as the Wild Atlantic Way and will, when brought to the overseas markets by Tourism Ireland and the tourism trade, deliver significant additional numbers of visitors, revenue and jobs to the region”.

Fáilte Ireland has spent the last year working in consultation with key stakeholders to develop the initiative including tourism attractions and businesses throughout the region. Following much consultation and deliberation, Ireland’s Ancient Eastwill be crafted along four distinct thematic pillars:

• Ancient Ireland – The Dawn of Civilisation (including the prehistoric attractions of the Boyne Valley in Newgrange and sites such as the Brownshill Dolmen in Carlow);


• Early Christian Ireland (including sites such as Clonmacnoise, Glendalough, Mellifont abbey, Jerpoint Abbey, St.Canice’s Cathedral and Holycross Abbey);


• Medieval Ireland (including Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile, the Viking Quarter in Waterford, Hook Head Lighthouse, Trim Castle and the Rock of Cashel);


• Anglo Ireland (including Ireland’s Great Houses and Gardens as well as sites such as the Dunbrody Famine Ship and Wicklow Gaol).


(For more on these themes see Notes for Editor below)


Speaking at today’s launch, the Minister of State for Tourism and sport, Michael Ring TD said:


“I am very pleased to welcome this new project and it is another great example of this Government’s relentless focus on growth in tourism. I believe that it will prove to be as significant a game-changer for the east and south of Ireland as the Wild Atlantic Way has been for the west. To ensure its success, it will be imperative that everyone in the region now get behind the initiative.


“I understand that Fáilte Ireland will be working directly with businesses and communities to bring this new brand alive. As an initiative firmly rooted in our past and our stories, it will be vital that local communities play their part to bring these stories alive and take full advantage of the opportunities provided by ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’ ”.


Some of those stakeholders who have already become involved in the project have emphasised the rich variety of stories and history which exists within the region and you can view some of these these in this short video.


Today’s launch of Ireland’s Ancient East took place during the first day of Meitheal, Ireland’s largest travel trade workshop in the RDS, Dublin.  Now in its 40th year, this year’s event is hosting 277 of the world’s top travel and tourism buyers – the highest number in many years – who are engaging directly with 500 Irishtourism businesses in approximately12,000 face to face pitching and business ‘speed-dates’ scheduled by Fáilte Ireland over the next two days to allow both international and Irish operators to agree business for the 2016 season.

Speaking with this activity in mind, Fáilte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn emphasised:

“We are very encouraged by the strong overseas interest in Ireland and in  this year’s Meitheal event. It is particularly noteworthy that 20% of the international agents joining us this week are currently not programming Ireland in their plans and, therefore, represent great potential for growth in 2016.

“We have placed ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’ – along with the Wild Atlantic Way, Dublin and a number of other features – very much into our pitch to all these overseas buyers as they plan their schedules for next year. Indeed, I have to say, the reception to our new initiative has so far been incredibly enthusiastic and confirms our belief that ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’ is a brand which will have strong resonance in our key overseas markets.

“Importantly, this brand should significantly transform tourism in the region – changing the east and south of this country from a transit zone to a compelling touring region.”

Some of the initial overseas reaction to Ireland’s Ancient East can be viewed here.

Mr Quinn pointed out that Ireland’s Ancient East was an evolving initiative with much work to do. Fáilte Ireland will be working with businesses and communities in the region to bring the proposition to life – including a series of experience development workshops to assist them in animating the stories of their locality. There will also be a signage and interpretation programme to bring all the diverse elements of Ireland’s Ancient East under the new brand.

As well as the traditional marketing of the new brand overseas, Fáilte Ireland will also be working with the local tourism industry to help them actively sell the new proposition to potential customers and overseas trade. Already, at this year’s Meitheal, the new proposition has been introduced to overseas buyers and selected Irish operators are pitching it to buyers at the marketplace sessions.



Notes for Editor

Ireland’s Ancient East

For those who love to peel back the layers of time, Ireland’s Ancient East will be promoted as a wonderful opportunity to experience 5000 years of European history in a compact area. Visitors can get off the beaten track to see, hear, touch and feel the imprints of the millennia of settlers in this land and discover Stone Age art, monasteries, castles and fortresses.

The initiative will also trade on the engaging authenticity to life in the local, bustling towns and villages. Visitors will be encouraged to take in a festival; try local fresh produce or tasty local specialties, many of which trace their roots to ancient times.

The Market

Based on comprehensive research in overseas markets, the initiative is aimed at two particular market segments overseas (identified by the research) who have indicated they would be more likely to come to Ireland for this kind of experience:

•        The Culturally Curious

•        Great escapers


The Culturally Curious are older visitors (over 45) and want to broaden their minds and expand their experience by exploring new landscapes, history and culture. Great Escapers, on the other hand, tend to be younger, early thirty-somethings and want time out from their busy lives and careers to connect with history and nature and their place within. This appeal to an interest in local culture and heritage, in particular, differentiates Ireland’s Ancient East from the Wild Atlantic Way. The emphasis within Ireland’s Ancient East on built heritage (as opposed to natural landscapes along the Wild Atlantic Way) will make it a very attractive proposition for those more interested in understanding the relationship between local place, past and people.

Four distinct themes

The new initiative will be based on four distinct thematic pillars:

  • Ancient Ireland – The Dawn of Civilisation
  • Early Christian Ireland
  • Medieval Ireland
  • Anglo Ireland


Ancient Ireland

There are many treasures in the south and east that are older than the pyramids, set in an ancient green landscape – passage tombs, dolmens and Stone Age observatories that are found throughout Ireland’s Ancient East. Visitors can wonder at the meanings behind the largest concentrations of carved Stone Age artwork and Celtic gold artefacts in Western Europe as well as hear from the locals themselves the stories that infuse this landscape of ancient warriors and Celtic druids.

For example, the low hills that you cross from the valley of the Liffey to that of the Boyne mark the crossing to a far more ancient time. Here there are a collection of pre-historic ceremonial sites that connect the lives and deaths of Stone Age Man who lived here to the seasons of the land in which they lived. Moving south visitors can stop off at Brownstown Dolmen, in the fertile farmland between the Slaney and Barrow rivers and marvel at its 100 ton capstone and, from here, the Slaney Valley takes you to the Irish National Heritage Park where everyday life in the Stone Age is beautifully recreated.

Key attractions: The prehistoric attractions of the Boyne Valley (Newgrange, Knowth, etc.); Brownshill Dolmen, Carlow.

Supporting products: Riverboat guided trips, guided/self-guided walks, River walks, themed driving routes, events celebrating the prehistoric heritage, characterful villages, lush river valleys.

Early Christian Ireland

Visitors to Ireland’s Ancient East will also be encouraged to step into the Golden Age of Saints and Scholars and visit the university and monastery sites where Ireland’s pioneering saints and monks wrote some of the world’s greatest illuminated manuscripts, before spreading their learning and spirituality throughout a Europe locked in the Dark Ages.

Visitors can, for example, stand on the Hill of Slane where St Patrick built his bonfire, or travel west from the Boyne valley along the path of the Ancient Dividing Road, the Esker Riada, to find the site of Saint Ciaran’s great monastery at Clonmacnoise. It was from here that the monks brought Christianity back to many parts of Europe where the Barbarians had all but wiped it out.  The sites and relics of the centuries that followed, when Christianity spread throughout Ireland, are to be found throughout Ireland’s Ancient East and visitors can climb a round tower, kneel in a monk’s cell, marvel at the carved high crosses or just absorb the peace and serenity of these sacred sites on a walking tour of the paths the pilgrims once took. They can compare the austerity of life at Glendalough and Clonmacnoise with the relative comfort of later abbeys at Jerpoint, Tintern or Cashel or see how the spirit of these times lives on at the many heritage festivals, food festivals and events which animate the local towns and villages throughout the year.

Key attractions: Clonmacnoise, Glendalough, Mellifont, Jerpoint Abbey, St.Canice’s Cathedral, Holycross Abbey.

Supporting products: Guided/self-guided walks, river tours, themed driving routes, walking routes which pass historic sites; events celebrating the monastic heritage, characterful villages, lush river valleys.


Medieval Ireland

Visitors will also be encouraged to explore the pathways of Medieval Ireland and uncover a rich tapestry of tales from this turbulent time. From the Viking Triangle of Ireland’s oldest city, Waterford, lush river valleys lead to the beautifully preserved Medieval City of Kilkenny and beyond.

The fortresses and castles built to protect the land and its occupants are evident everywhere in the region. For example, Hugh de Lacy’s magnificent Norman Castle still dominates the landscape at Trim. In the beautifully preserved Medieval City of Kilkenny the spirit of centuries of craftspeople still lives and breathes – in the merchants’ houses, the Norman castle, the monks’ ale, the potters, jewellers, weavers, artists and artisans of every kind. It’s a magnificent setting where visitors can enjoy music, theatre and local festivals and events or follow in the footsteps of the feuding Butlers – on the Butler Trail through the Suir Valley.

Key attractions: Ireland’s Medieval Mile, Kilkenny; Viking Triangle, Waterford, Hook Head Lighthouse; Trim Castle; Rock of Cashel.

Supporting products: Guided/self-guided walks, river tours, themed driving routes, walking routes which pass historic sites; events celebrating Ireland’s medieval heritage, characterful villages, lush river valleys.



In Anglo-Ireland visitors can discover the stories of a time of contrasts which shaped the lives of the now settled conquerors of Ireland and those they ruled over. Visitors will have a unique opportunity to experience what life was like in the 18th and 19th centuries. Lavish gardens, opulent houses and market towns are all there for them to explore including the great estates at Powerscourt, Mount Usher, Avondale, Castletown, Emo Court, Altamont and Lismore.

The romantic ideals of these times inspired others to failed Rebellions, or to seek better fortune and escape from famine through emigration. At Dunbrody Famine Ship, in Wexford, for example, they can discover what leaving was really like for them. At Vinegar Hill and Wicklow Gaol visitors can see what became of those who stayed and fought for change here.

Key attractions: Great Houses & Gardens, Dunbrody Famine Ship, Wicklow Gaol.

Supporting products: Guided/self-guided walks, river walks, events within the estates, overnight stays, walking routes through the estates, events telling the history and stories of the local estate owners, characterful villages, lush river valleys.