National Trust to renew tourism in Northern Ireland
For decades now, Northern Ireland has hardly been known as a tourist hotspot, but now the new National Trust director for Northern Ireland, Hilary McGrady, plans to change all that.
This week McGrady was in New York on a mission to promote the trust’s signature project -- the proposed new World Heritage Center to be built at the Giants Causeway in Co. Antrim between 2010 and 2012.
The renewed drive to promote the Causeway, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, is a smart strategic move, because with its welcome to all visitors it takes the heat out of all the ongoing local squabbles between Nationalist and Unionist representatives, placing the emphasis on the natural wonder of the 60 million year old Causeway itself as an international tourist above political point scoring.
The proposed new Causeway Heritage Center tops a list of five key projects that signal Northern Ireland’s renewed seriousness about promoting itself as an international tourist destination.
Other new tourists projects include the Titanic Quarter and Visitor’s Center in Belfast, the Derry Walls and Heritage Center, a visitor’s center at the Mourne Mountains and the proposed St. Patrick’s Trail, which will follow the life and legacy of Ireland’s patron saint, who preached his first sermon in Ulster.
“The Causeway is by far and away the biggest natural attraction in Northern Ireland,” McGrady told the Irish Voice and IrishCentral. “It attracts over 600,000 visitors a year.
“In the past it has been fraught with political arguments. The visitor’s facilities that were originally there in 2000 were burnt down. And there’s been an argument going on for nine years now about what the solution is going to be. But by 2007 the National Trust took the lead in this project.
“We see this as much more than just a visitor’s center. And we feel that short term political point scoring really misses the point.
“This is Northern Ireland’s only World Heritage Site, the place that people get excited about, and about all the myths and heritage that surrounded it. We have created a project that gathers all of that together.”
When visitors come to the new heritage center they will encounter a world-class experience, McGrady says. At the moment all there is by way of welcome at the Causeway is a portacabin (prefabricated cabin). If you’re lucky, she says, you might get a cup of tea.
“That is not what we need to be saying about tourism in Northern Ireland,” says McGrady. “We’re going to play our part as a new face for tourism in Northern Ireland.”
McGrady, who is clearly passionate about the mission to fund and complete the new heritage center, knows that the will and eventually all of the funding will be achieved.
“That’s the primary reason I’ve come to the states to promote the center and the region. Obviously I don’t expect to just find the £2.5 million we need to complete the project here right away,” she says.