12 August 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The productive development of the tourism industry in Co Monaghan has long been an objective of both local authority and community interests.
However, despite many reports, frequent local summits of relevant stakeholders and a plethora of some good, not-so-good and occasionally bizarre ideas, Monaghan tourism has not moved much beyond the ‘Cinderella’ stage as a contributor to the local economy.
Indeed, what advances have been made in stimulating a consistent source of revenue for the hospitality sector in the county have suffered some very significant setbacks in recent years.
Tourism angling, for example, once a vibrant seasonal contributor to the economies of towns such as Ballybay and Castleblayney, has hit something of a crisis, precipitated in part by the largescale poaching of coarse fish from local lakes.
The responsibility for this problem, which has been debated at a number of local authority fora in recent times, has been laid principally at the door of fishermen from other parts of Europe. There may be cultural factors at work here, but there is also a ruthless commercial motiviation for the systematic depletion of waterways in the manner which has come to be complained of by local coarse fishing interests.
Even if the monitoring authorities were equipped with the numbers of personnel and legislative weaponry sufficient to counteract the practice, it looks like, from a tourism point of view, the harm has already been done. The word has apparently been spread along the verbal grapevine to the markets in Britain, Germany and elsewhere that what were once relatively rich and unspoilt resources for visiting fishermen to Co Monaghan have now been tainted – and the consequent fall off in UK traffic and the damage to reputation will take a long time to rebuild.
It is important that the proper attention is given to rebuilding the tourism strength that our county has traditionally possessed in terms of its angling resources.
However, it is equally important that serious attention is given to systematically developing another great natural resource possessed by Co Monaghan as an attraction to visitors – its value as a heritage and ethnic tourism location.
We have highlighted on a number of occasions in recent times the potential to develop and market a tourism programme linking the county’s literary accomplishments in a manner that would be attractive to overseas visitors.
Co Monaghan may never become a major holiday destination of itself for those vacationing in Ireland, but it could be made into a significant regional feature and an attractive stop-over point if its rich literary and cultural heritage were marketed adeptly in a package targeted at what is undoubtedly a receptive local market in areas of the world where there are strong pockets of people of Irish heritage.
It is in pursuit of that heritage, and very often the desire to trace their familial lineage back to its source point, that a great many visitors from overseas choose to come to this country.
Indeed, a steady and significant number of people from the Maritime Provinces of Canada are providing an important source of revenue for hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and other hospitality sector outlets in North Monaghan at the present time as they seek to commune with the birthplace of their predecessors.
Co Monaghan’s Canadian connection is now well established – but it is questionable whether its full tourism potential is being realised.
In a story elsewhere in this issue (page four), former North Monaghan Co Councillor Willie McKenna refers to the need for the county to focus some of its tourism promotion resources on the ethnic tourism sector.
Mr McKenna himself has been largely responsible for the propagation of the strong bonds between Prince Edward Island in Canada and the North Monaghan community from where many settlers voyaged in the Famine period to establish a new home for themselves.
Although the value of this link was questioned when it was first established – indeed, occasionally mocked as a junket opportunity for politicians and not much else – it has now matured into a pretty consistent and by no means negligible source of local tourism revenue, one that has taken on enhanced importance as the wideranging impact of national economic decline has eroded some of the traditional sources of income for local hotels and food outlets.
Monaghan’s Canadian connection is fuelling tourism in a fairly substantial way at present. It is by no means the panacea for all the sector’s difficulties, but it could be recognised and exploited in a much more meaningful way by the offical tourism promotion agencies at both local and regional level than it has to date.
And the success it has achieved could act as a template for the development of other ethnic tourism connections – with communities in the United States, for example, and in the large city locations of Britian where Co Monaghan people found employment in the earlier decades of this century.
The genealogical resources available in this county are quite considerable. It would be a worthwhile project for their scope and accessibility through the library service to be made known to the Monaghan Associations established in Britian and America as a prompting first step that might attract an increase in visitor numbers from those locations.
Monaghan tourism, particularly in the current parched economic times, needs all the help it can get. The once derided Canadian connection is an increasingly important source of revenue for the sector in its own right at present – perhaps it can also provide a model for emulation for other facets of the undoubtedly rich and diverse ethnic tourism potential that is at our fingertips.

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