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Shannon tourism masterplan identifies Clare priority projects

HOLY Island and the Ardnacrusha hydro-electric power station have been identified as catalysts for development across the East and South East Clare regions in a new masterplan developed for the promotion of tourism along the River Shannon.

The Shannon Tourism Masterplan was launched on Tuesday, after being commissioned by Waterways Ireland and Fáilte Ireland, and supported by Clare County Council along with nine other local authorities. The document proposes an investment of over €76 million in visitor facilities, along the river, up to 2030.

Clare features in a Lower Shannon Discovery Zone which runs from Portumna to Limerick. Among the ‘hero products’ of this zone is Inis Cealtra. According to the masterplan, the monastic island will “form a core element of the emerging Pilgrim Way, offering clusters of early Medieval monastic sites of exceptional interest… at Limerick, Killaloe, Tuamgraney, Inis Cealtra, Johnstown, Lorrha and Portunma”.

The new masterplan also underlines the importance of the proposed Shannon Greenway which will link Limerick via Clonlara, Ardnacrusha, O’Brien’s Bridge, Killaloe/Ballina, Tuamgraney and Scariff. In addition, it recommends linking the route to Mountshannon where the Inis Cealtra visitor centre is to be developed.

The document advises that the visitor management plan for Inis Cealtra be activated promptly. “It is strongly recommended that the recommendations of the VMP for Inis Cealtra (Holy Island) be expedited as soon as possible,” the blueprint states. “Critically, the development of a Visitor Centre at Mountshannon, with guided access to the island will provide a springboard for a unique visitor experience in the East Clare corridor adjacent to the Shannon from Killaloe to Tuamgraney (St Cronan’s), Scariff and Mountshannon, and northwards towards Portumna.” The development of cross-Shannon visitor boating links from other villages around Lough Derg to the Inish Cealtra Visitor Centre is also proposed.

In respect of the ESB visitor centre at Ardnacrusha, the plan recommends a feasibility study for its redevelopment and the creation of a visitor management plan. The masterplan notes issues with the size of the site and recommends the development of extra capacity as well as a range of means of accessing the facility. It also recommends developing on-water and beside-water activities in nearby areas including O’Brien’s Bridge, Killaloe/Ballina and Limerick.

Describing the masterplan as key to helping to rebalance tourism in Clare, Deputy Cathal Crowe hailed it as “a new dawn” for the east of the county. “The plan also proposes enhanced Local Link buses to take passengers from Killaloe-Ballina up around Lough Derg and into Portumna,” he noted. “That move will not only provide enhanced public transport for locals in these communities along the lake but also enable tourists to move cheaply throughout area. I’ve also asked Fáilte Ireland and Waterways Ireland to keep the portion of the Shannon beyond Limerick City in mind. There are a number of communities that have really embraced their estuary location, offering fabulous tourism products such as the likes of Labasheeda and Carrigaholt. In addition to this, when I was elected to Clare County Council, I was pushing plans for a jetty in Bunratty to attract small recreational vessels and day trippers on boats – so I’d love to see this form part of this plan.”

The plan was launched by Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin and Minister for Local Government Darragh O’Brien online and is tipped to provide a framework to grow tourism in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands.

Over ten years €75.6 million in capital expenditure will be delivered in seven priority areas and to fund interventions such as enhanced harbours and waterside public realms in Shannon towns; improved amenities for boat users and infrastructure for activity providers, clubs and communities to operate; a rejuvenated cruising experience along the Shannon; remote moorings and tranquillity zones along the Shannon and new recreational infrastructure including a substantial network of walking and cycling trails.

At the launch, John Mc Donagh Chief Executive with Waterways Ireland said, “The plan is an exemplar of a collaborative approach and one Waterways Ireland will use to produce developmental plans for our other navigations. I am in no doubt that when implemented, the tourism experience on the Shannon will be transformed.  Work to this end has already begun for example Waterways Ireland with its partners is delivering a redevelopment of Connaught Harbour; new jetties at Athlone and Red Bridge; upgrades to Dromod Harbour; a canal walk and amenity park at Roosky; conservation at Fort Eliza and Meelick Martello Tower; canoe trails at O’Briensbridge and Inner Lakes; and the Shannon Greenway running from Limerick to Scarriff.”

The masterplan envisages the development of nine “remote” moorings , split evenly between the north, middle and lower Shannon to allow boats to moor in a water body, away from harbours or towns and villages. Plans for two of these are currently being considered by Clare County Council.

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