The Barrow Study 04: the assessment and audit

More on WI’s 2012 publication The Barrow Corridor Recreational, Tourism and Commercial Product Identification Study.

Chapter 3 (27 pages) Assessment of Tourism and Recreation Infrastructure and Opportunity Sites ends with three maps, each of them spread over four pages:

  • Map 2 (Tourism Business)
  • Map 3 (Waterways Facilities)
  • Map 4 (Trails).

The other fifteen pages are divided into two sections:

  • 3.1 The Barrow Navigation and Grand Canal Barrow Line describes the two waterways and the estuary but does not say how much is managed by the New Ross Port Company [I rang the company, which confirms that its area extends to St Mullins]. It then describes activities in the area, whether for local residents or for tourists: boating, walking, cycling, canoeing, rowing, outdoor swimming, sailing and angling. It ends by listing the statutory bodies, businesses and user and local groups with which Waterways Ireland has relationships. This is a useful fact-establishing exercise
  • 3.2 The Barrow Corridor — Tourism lists tourist attractions, with visitor numbers for some of them, as well as driving routes and notable natural heritage sites. It lists activity packages in cruising, canoeing, walking, and angling as well as a multi-activity package. It shows where visitors can go to commit golf and it lists festivals and events. Finally, it says that “Tourism in the Barrow Corridor is currently being developed, supported and promoted by […]” Fáilte Ireland, county councils, Waterways Ireland and LEADER groups: it describes Fáilte Ireland’s activities at some length, WI’s at slightly shorter length, those of the county councils in one short paragraph and those of the LEADER groups not at all.

Some problems

The main problem with Chapter 3 is that, despite its title, there is little or no assessment in it: it’s almost entirely a factual account of the current situation, which is valuable in itself but should form the basis for an assessment of provision against current, expected and potential customer needs.

The ssecond problem is that it does nothing to define a Barrow identity. For example, in 3.2.3 it says:

Also in the area are a number of key tourist attractions. The table below identifies each attraction and the number of visits they achieved in 2008 or 2009 […].

It’s fair enough to list them, along with whatever data was available, but most of the attractions listed derive none of their pulling power from any link to, or identification with, the Barrow or its corridor. So their inclusion here merely blurs the focus, dilutes the Barrowness, distracts from the identification or development of an identity for the study area.

The third problem is that there is no examination of past efforts to stimulate Barrow tourism. The 1998 brochure listed four Barrow hire firms: Valley Boats of Graiguenamanagh, South Star Cruisers of Slyguff, Barrowline Cruisers of Ballyhide and Vicarstown Leisure Barges. The first two have ceased operations. Vicarstown Leisure Barges (Creans) bought the Barrowline name (they still hire out boats from Vicarstown), and Canalways still operates from Rathangan, but there are now no hire firms on the Barrow itself.

The 1998 brochure also included “the fine modern marina of Ceatharlach Moorings” downstream of Carlow, which also operated a “50+ seater river boat”. The moorings were small, with a narrow entrance at right angles to the current; the river boat did not last long.

Some other small hire firms have come and gone since then, a proposed marina in Athy was not completed and the Athy-based converted M-boat Aiséirí ceased to be operated by the Community Council.

The point is not that boating businesses on the Barrow are doomed: it is that there might have been lessons to be learned from an examination of what has happened before. This report would be more convincing if it were able to show that past problems had been considered and could be overcome.

The audit

Chapter 10 Appendix C (14 pages) Details of the Tourism Audit includes one or more photos, a statement of the current position and a list of opportunities for several places. They include all the main waterways locations but only four other attractions. Three of them are amongst the far larger number listed in 3.2 (above) but one, Heywood Gardens (near Abbeyleix, although the audit doesn’t say so), is not amongst those mentioned in Chapter 3.

It is evident that the audit included a boat trip, which is good, but it is hard to understand why it is not more comprehensive and more closely matched to the contents of Chapter 3. Given the length of time that elapsed between the carrying out of some of the work and the publication of the study, the lack of integration of the material is somewhat surprising.

Next: action and implementation.

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