“Tourism has been identiﬁed as the single biggest growth industry in this region. By the year 1997 an estimated 1.2 million tourists will visit this region supporting over 15,000 jobs.” (Ireland West Development Plan ‘93-’97)
Two years ago a sub-committee of Athenry Community Council came together with a number of other organisations and individuals to look at ways of developing Tourism in Athenry. They decided that urgent action was needed if Athenry was to take its share of this unprecedented economic and employment opportunity. This group identiﬁed major one of Athenry’s products – its unique Medieval Heritage. Athenry contains some of the finest and most authentic medieval buildings in Ireland and its hinterland contains sites of signiﬁcant historical interest. How could this product be marketed to the outside world?
The Heritage Towns project is designed to transform a selection of Irelands ﬁnest historical towns into tourist attractions in their own right. The Heritage Towns project has given us the chance to put Athenry on the map as one of the thirty most historical towns in the country. Athenry is situated only 15 miles from a major tourist destination-Galway city, which attracts almost a million tourists yearly. Many of these tourists pass by Derrydonnell, only ﬁve miles away. Can we attract a percentage of them to visit Athenry and the surrounding area?
In December 1993 Athenry was designated as a Heritage Town and this gave us the unique opportunity of receiving up to 87.5% funding, from Bord Failte through European funding and Galway County Council, towards the restoration of St. Mary’s Church and its development as a Heritage Centre. The Heritage Centre will act as a focal point for visitors to Athenry: the story of Athenry will be told and places of historical interest in the area will be highlighted, i.e. early Christian Monastic Settlement in Tysaxon, ring forts in Carnaun, Maonbaun, Derrydonnell, Lady’s Well, seventeenth century graveyards at Coldwood, the sandhills and Esker Riada and the Deserted Village at Kilcornan to name a few. The Heritage Centre will be complemented by a town trail by which visitors will be encouraged to stay in the area and explore the many monuments and historical sites described in the centre.
Heritage Town signs will be placed on all approach roads to Athenry and on the main Dublin-Galway, Limerick-Galway roads.
As a Heritage Town Athenry will enjoy special status throughout the country and will be marketed and advertised throughout Europe and the USA by a professional marketing group. Over 50% of these tourists are interested in Heritage and visit Heritage centres while in Ireland. The multiplier (spin off) effect of large numbers of visitors to Athenry will be considerable both in economic terms and for employment (both direct and indirect).
At the moment the Heritage Committee is fundraising £30,000 from businesses and individuals in Athenry. To date there has been a tremendous response. We would like to thank all those who have contributed and look forward to generous contributions from those not yet approached.
Written by Madelyn Brody
Published here 30 Oct 2022 and originally published 1995
Athenry Heritage Centre, The Square, Athenry, County Galway, Ireland
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