The Irish government have announced their first phase of investment in Ireland’s newest tourism initiative “Ireland’s Ancient East.” The $2 million investment will aid with funding for 12 projects and signage for the area.

Ireland’s Ancient East is geared to maximize the history and heritage in east and southern Ireland and bring it to greater international attention. The new initiative, according to Failte Ireland, will offer visitors a personal experience of 5,000 years of history. The area of focus stretches from Carlingford, County Louth down through 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 experience brand is intended to match and complement the Wild Atlantic Way in terms of scale and ambition.

The Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport, Paschal Donohoe, along with Minister of State for Tourism, Michael Ring, announced the $2 million (€1.2m) in funding for capital projects with an additional $671,000 (€600k) for the first stage of branded signage for all counties within the region.

The €1.2m capital funding is the first phase of investment through Fáilte Ireland’s ‘New ideas in Ancient Spaces’ Capital Grants Scheme and is for an initial 12 projects within the Ireland’s Ancient East initiative. It is expected that projects in every county within Ireland’s Ancient East will be supported through the scheme over the coming months.

The 12 projects to receive funding are as follows:

Titanic Connections, Cork

The Titanic Experience tells the story of the last 123 passengers that boarded Titanic from Cobh. Located in the original white star line ticket office building and adjacent to, what is known as the Heartbreak/Titanic Pier. It is estimated that in excess of 1 million emigrants who left Ireland would have walked down this pier.

Boyne Valley: Waterway through Time, County Meath

The Boyne Valley has a unique heritage spanning 5,000 years of Ireland's Ancient East including Mythical, Neolithic, Medieval, Monastic, Celtic and Anglo-Norman and Irish heritage. The Boyne Valley "Waterway Through Time" is a major initiative to boost economic development in the Boyne Valley region by restoring the navigation on the River Boyne and along the canal network between Drogheda at Oldbridge to the Newgrange Interpretive Centre, covering some 35kms of waterway.

The restoration work needed is to the lock walls and gate at Staleen and the canal to Brú na Boinne and will create a direct channel between to the visitor sites of the Battle of the Boyne and Newgrange and the villages along the route.

Redevelopment of Powerscourt Visitor Interpretation Experience, County Wicklow

Powerscourt Estate attracts more than 500,000 domestic and overseas visitors per annum with Powerscourt Gardens ranked as one of Ireland’s top 20 most visited attractions. The proposed interpretation and enhancement projects at Powerscourt House, Gardens and Waterfall seek to share the stories of Powerscourt and offer a world class visitor experience.

Athlone Castle – Enhancing the Visitor Experience, County Westmeath

This is a programme of interventions to enhance the visitor experience at Athlone Castle. The centre piece of this project is the provision of a new multi-lingual audio guide in five European languages and English. Along with a costumed guided tour by heritage interpreters, downloadable guide and app with outdoor information panels which will highlight buildings and landmarks that have historical and cultural significance to Athlone and the greater region of Ireland’s Ancient East.

Hook Lighthouse Guided Tour Experience, County Wexford

Hook Lighthouse is the oldest operational lighthouse in the world and offers a completely unique experience and opportunity to discover 800 years of lighthouse keeping. The development of a new "Watchtower Experience" within the existing site at Hook Lighthouse will bring to life the characters and stories of Hook Lighthouse, the shipwrecks and sea stories.

Journeys of Exploration, Anglo Irish Heritage at Blackrock Castle, Cork

Blackrock Castle is the oldest surviving structure still in use in the city of Cork; a 16th century fort. A compelling new, high-quality interpretive experience, Journeys of Exploration, is the project proposal at the Blackrock Castle. The story of the Anglo Irish and Cork's maritime heritage will be told through new multi-lingual interpretation and exhibits at the rooftop, gunnery, courtyard and castle slipway.

Dunleckney Maltings, County Carlow

The development of a new visitor experience is proposed by providing a unique opportunity to learn about the brewing and distilling heritage in a building that has been integrally linked to the Irish brewing sector for over 200 years. Located on the outskirts of Bagenalstown in county Carlow, the restoration of the former brewery and maltings at Dunleckney and its development into a world class visitor experience is proposed, in association with the locally based Carlow Brewing Company, a leading Irish craft brewery.

Tholsel Visitor Centre, Fethard, County Tipperary

The Tholsel Visitor Centre project seeks to create a distinctive, interactive and compelling resource and platform to promote Fethard as a significant visitor destination. Fethard has an unrivalled heritage resource in the Tholsel, Holy Trinity Church and Augustinian Abbey. Its town walls are considered the most perfect surviving example in Ireland and are therefore a unique attraction.

Thosel will house an interactive exhibition focused on Medieval Fethard, its place at the centre of Ireland's horse country and the story of Coolmore Stud. This project will marry the story of Fethard with other attractions of Ireland's Ancient East particularly in places like Kilkenny, Cashel and Carrick on Suir.

Birr’s Anglo Irish and Early Christian Heritage to Life, County Offaly

Birr Town is book-ended by two key attractions, Birr Castle which attracts 60,000 visitors per annum and the MacRegol Gospels in Birr Library which attracts approximately 5,000 visitors per annum. Retaining its authentic 18th and 19th century Georgian character, Birr town centre is located between both attractions. The development of an accessible tourism experience framework to encourage visitors to explore the full range of visitor attractions of Birr town and its castle is proposed by telling Birr’s Anglo Irish story and connecting it with the legacy of St Brendan.

Ancient Stones, Untold Stories – St Canice’s Cathedral & Round Tower Interpretation Project, Kilkenny City

Much of St. Canice's significance lies in the continual use of the site as a place of ecclesiastical worship and residence from early Christian times down to the present day. The project proposes to enhance the interpretation of St Canice’s Cathedral and Round Tower, through simple yet effective techniques which will enhance the serenity of the site, allowing for self-discovery for visitors to enjoy and explore the Cathedral itself, its setting and associated buildings and features and the wider context of this part of Kilkenny.

Lullymore Heritage & Discovery Park Ltd - enhanced visitor experience, County Kildare

Lullymore is the only attraction in Ireland offering a comprehensive experience of the peatlands and the history and culture of the rural communities that lived there through the ages. It tells the story of the early settlers, the local ancient togher roads and bog bodies, its influential monastery, rebellion against local landlords, industrialization and the unique environment of the Peatlands.

The Uisneach Interpretative Centre, County Westmeath

The Hill of Uisneach is the mythological and sacred centre of Ireland located between Athlone and Mullingar with no dedicated visitor interpretation or basic services on site. The 150 acre Hill comprises two national monuments and is part of a larger private farm. Ireland’s Ancient East has brought a new focus on its sustainable tourism potential.

Commenting on the first phase of capital funding for the initiative, Minister Donohoe said “This funding is just the first phase in a programme to animate the great amount of history and heritage in ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’ and allow us to build on the tourism assets we have in the east and south of the country.”

Minister of State for Tourism, Michael Ring, said “Ensuring that we continue to position Ireland in a way that allows us to compete with other countries and attract overseas visitors is crucial. So far this year we have seen more tourists coming to Ireland than ever before, helping to create jobs and support the economy. We must make sure that continues.”

Fáilte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn today emphasized “Fáilte Ireland is working directly with businesses and communities on the ground to bring this new experience brand alive. During the assessment phase for this capital funding, we were incredibly impressed by the enthusiasm and high quality of ideas within the proposals that we received. Today’s funding is just the first phase in capital supports to improve and augment the great variety of attractions already in the region and we will be in a position to announce further grants in the near future.

“As an initiative firmly rooted in our past and our stories, it is vital that we bring these stories alive to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by Ireland’s Ancient East. Today’s funding will help us towards that goal and, by the year’s end, we will have helped to prime projects in every county within Ireland’s ancient East.”

For more visit Failte Ireland’s Ireland’s Ancient East page.