A REBRANDING of Lough Derg to avoid confusion with the other place of worship in Donegal would help it reach its tourism potential, according to North Tipperary county manager, Joe MacGrath.
Mr MacGrath is concerned about the instant name recognition for the lake and its surrounding attractions because it gets continuously confused with the other Lough Derg where people go on pilgrimages.
The other Lough Derg is one of Ireland’s oldest spiritual pilgrimages and is located on a County Donegal Island, close to the village of Pettigo. Thousands of visitors have flocked to this place of sanctuary, while thousands also avail of angling, pleasure craft and a wide variety of water sports on the lake.
In an interview with The Clare Champion, Mr MacGrath pointed out one of the first big challenges about Lough Derg is its name.
“In the public mind, if you talk to people in other parts of the country such as Dublin, they will think about the other Lough Derg. A rebranding of Lough Derg would make a difference.
“That would place Lough Derg in its proper context. I think there is more organisations, community groups, local authorities, public bodies working more together than ever before promoting Lough Derg,” he said.
As part of the new signage strategy, Mr MacGrath revealed a number of bodies hoped the lake could be rebranded as “Lough Derg on the Shannon” or “Shannon’s Lough Derg”.
He acknowledged Lough Derg still hasn’t reached its potential in so far as a tourist destination.
“Trying to capture the public imagination about Lough Derg is a pretty difficult task.
“Part of the reason is that historically, the country was marketed abroad in terms of the East, West of Ireland and the Midlands and they were the main tourist destinations.
“The centre of the country didn’t always get the same focus. That is changing. First of all, there is a need to focus on the Inland Waterways from Carrick-on-Shannon down to Killaloe/Ballina. That is beginning to bring a focus to the area.
“There are so many things happening around Lough Derg, public awareness is increasing. It is a big task and challenge,” he said.
Asked if there was need for another new group with the specific task of marketing Lough Derg, he stated the work is being done by existing groups.
“It is a slow burner. The better-known destinations in the country such as Kerry and Galway were 40 and 50 years building up their names and tourism markets.
“Their challenge now is to keep themselves at that level.
“The promotion of the lake is still in its infancy. The first priority is to build up what is around the lake, what the lake has to offer.
“There is no point in marketing a place unless there is something interesting and plenty of activities to do there.
There is a lot happening with the Killaloe Marina and the Ballina Marina. The future of the lake and the promotion of Ballina and Killaloe is being built bit by bit.
“Every year, the amount of awareness is increasing,” he explained.
Mr MacGrath favours a small but steady incremental rise in tourist numbers attending the Lough Derg Region every year, which would be more sustainable in the long term.
“If you could get a 2% or 3% increase in tourists every year, over a period of 10 years, you would see a real difference.
“I am getting a sense of a buzz around Ballina and Killaloe that I haven’t witnessed before. I sense a real determination among people to promote this area.
“The Ballina and Killaloe area has an awful lot to offer. People who don’t know the area and come here for the first time experience a real ‘wow” factor. We have to build on that. I think the future is very bright for this area,” he said.
He predicted the construction of the new River Shannon Crossing linking Ballina and Killaloe would heighten the focus on this area and help encourage even more day trippers and visitors to sample what the twin communities had to offer.
He pointed out the overall development including the Killaloe Bypass and the upgrading of the Ballina to Birdhill Road would be in the region of €40 million, which would provide a huge economic boost for the area.
He noted the Killaloe Bypass would help alleviate traffic congestion in the Cathedral town, while the new link on to the Limerick-Dublin motorway would dramatically improve access into the area.
“It is very encouraging that the River Shannon Crossing project is being prioritised at national level. It is one of the very few major road projects that is going to An Bord Pleanála for a hearing and a CPO,” he added.