The Barrow Study 06: the proposed programmes 1

More on WI’s 2012 publication The Barrow Corridor Recreational, Tourism and Commercial Product Identification Study. The seven Action Programmes for the Barrow Navigation are covered in Chapter 6 (22 pages).

  1. Navigation Infrastructure and management programme
  2. Activity Hubs and Tourism Trails
  3. Boating and Cruising Development Programme
  4. Raising the profile of the River Barrow and environs – touring itineraries
  5. Barrow Nature and Wildlife Sites and Interpretation
  6. Barrow Way and South Leinster Way Trail Enhancement Programme
  7. Development of a Coarse Fishing Centre of Excellence for the Barrow.

I’ll start at the bottom, with the items of less interest to me (5, 6, 7 and 2). I’ll cover the boating and navigation items on a separate page.

Fishing, walking, cycling, canoeing and nature

It seems that there is some formal award of “Centre of Excellence”, made by some organisation (I have not been able to discover which), to areas that, for certain types of angling, meet some standards (which I have not been able to find). Programme 7 tells us that

The Barrow is currently considered a Centre of Excellence for tourism only for Pike fishing ….

The study would like it to become a centre of excellence for other forms of angling. As far as I can see, the focus is on tourist anglers, not on locals: recreational potential, mentioned in Chapter 2, is not discussed. The study thinks that the way to bring about improvement is to have three public sector bodies — Inland Fisheries Ireland, Fáilte Ireland and Waterways Ireland — promote the provision of services to anglers, although according to anglers I’ve spoken to the main problem is a shortage of maggot suppliers.

Arranging walks is evidently a more complex business because that will, says Programme 6, require the services of four bodies: Waterways Ireland, Fáilte Ireland, LEADER and the National Trails Office http://www.irishtrails.ie/National_Trails_Office/. The recommendations include an annual two-day “high profile walking event” starting in 2011, a badge for those who walk the whole Barrow Way, a trail guide, updatable information (which probably requires what the Young Folk Nowadays call an app), more accommodation in B&Bs, campsites near service blocks, bunk barns in abandoned lockkeepers’ houses (some of which were abandoned because they get flooded), a cycle trail. Looped walks (where you return to your starting point) are covered separately in Programme 2, as are suggestions for two new one-way walks, from Kilkenny to Inistiogue and up the Milltown Feeder to Pollardstown; unlike the existing long-distance Ways, these would require the involvement of county councils.

I was glad to see that Programme 5 recommended enhancing “opportunities to view and enjoy wildlife”: I’m very fond of wildlife myself, especially in a game pie made with a mix of Bambi, bunnies and birds, but it seems that non-culinary enjoyment is proposed here. However, it doesn’t seem to be seen as enough to attract visitors to the area: it is suggested that a guide[book?] might be welcomed by those already on walking or boating visits. That is to be done by Waterways Ireland with the National Parks and Wildlife Service [NPWS] and local authority Heritage Officers. It’s not clear why some local writer might not take on the task. “On site interpretation” should be provided in several places by Fáilte Ireland, the landowners, the county councils, Waterways Ireland, LEADER, Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all (excluding the NPWS) and there might be guided visits organised by Fáilte Ireland with the tourism trade (the private sector making a welcome appearance) and LEADER, who might also develop an app.

Programme 2 recommends developing “activity hubs” at up to eight places. It is not clear what an activity hub actually is: what sort of premises, what sort of organisation, owned and run by whom, funded how. There are hints: a hub should offer “full service provision for visitors and a choice of activities”, with “safe facilities and competent activity providers” for adults on holiday, booking services (on the day or at short notice). Looped walks and cycle trails should be based on the hubs, as should activities for local people; the hubs should “promote” “appropriately badged [marine and countryside] guides and appropriately qualified and approved activity businesses”.

The study recommends that Waterways Ireland, the National Trails Office and LEADER commission a feasibility study into the provision of a canoe trail and the potential for the development of tourism services based on such a trail; personally I’d just ring Charlie Horan who’s already doing it.

While I’m sure that individual recommendations are sensible, the suggested approach to economic development is not. Why are eight sets of public-sector bodies (some with several members) required to interact in carrying out some relatively minor developments of tourism infrastructure?

The nature of the activity hubs is not specified but they too sound very like public-sector or publicly-funded bodies, or at least like favoured organisations with the equivalent of a licence to promote certain local businesses. I don’t like the sound of that. Better to let a hundred flowers blossom: remove obstacles that might deter folk from starting up and expanding businesses, including the obstacle presented by having to negotiate with half a dozen public-sector bodies (even before you discuss planning permission, tax and legislative requirements).

If local people think they can make a few bob out of providing B&Bs, or fields for tents, or fishing or nature services, let them get on with it. And if they don’t, that’s fine: they may have better investment opportunities available to them. If they want to appoint a local pub or shop as a booking agent, let them do that too, but the wonders of tinterweb offer an alternative.

The only other activity requiring serious money is improved marketing, which is what I assume is what is needed to provide a “higher profile”, and Waterways Ireland is doing that anyway.

Raising the profile

Programme 4 is called “Raising the profile of the River Barrow and environs — touring itineraries” and begins:

6.5.1 The sightseers and culture seekers market responds well to itineraries which help confirm that there is enough to do in an area based on their main interests in landscape, culture and heritage.

It becomes clear, first, that sightseers and culture seekers are all tourists, not local people, and, second, that they are all motorists. So, although in principle you might have sightseers who were also walkers or boaters or cyclists, in practice all the suggestions assume that the sightseers and culture seekers travel by car.

The third thing that becomes clear is that the “attractions” grouped into itineraries don’t necessarily have to have anything to do with the Barrow. Anything within an ass’s roar of the navigation, anything that might attract any subset of the sightseers and culture seekers, is likely to find itself dragged in; there need be no link to the river or its corridor. Unfortunately, in most cases the itineraries don’t seem to be readily distinguishable from those that might be prepared in any other area of Ireland: there is no Barrow branding, no distinctive identity. Or perhaps I should say that there may be something distinctive, something Barrow-based, about these proposed itineraries, but the study doesn’t identify it and doesn’t provide evidence of appeal to tourists.

I’ve already commented on the English Norman nature of the Barrow. I didn’t think it sounded all that convincing, especially as it scarcely featured in the assessment and audit, but here we learn that the English Norman heritage is to be “a special theme within” a trail linking “Great Houses, Castles and Gardens”. And then we have something new:

… identifying a special theme of Christian or Ecclesiastical heritage in the area to include the major saints associated with the area — St Patrick, St Moling, St Laserian, St Canice, St Mochua and St Brigid.

So which museums have what artefacts owned by these saints? Where are the steam-engines they invented or the mills they built? And how many people have ever heard of them? Google has 67.6 million hits for St Patrick and just over 3 million for St Brigid (the well-known pagan goddess), but St Canice gets only 166,000 (helped by having a cathedral) while St Moling has only 25,100, St Laserian 16,800 and St Mochua, the patron saint of coffee, only 8,020. Will tourists flock to areas associated with this collection of possibly non-existent nonentities?

Finally, there is a disappointing suggestion at the end:

4.7 Provide one industrial heritage site. Provide one or two venues where the industrial heritage of the Barrow is presented (Mills, Navigation).

That’s the one thing that, in an Irish context, is really distinctive about the Barrow. There are sites all the way along it; they don’t have to be provided. They constitute an industrial heritage landscape; it is the linked industrial, agricultural and transport landscapes, not one or two individual sites, that should be presented to the visitor.

On to the next page for the boating and navigation recommendations.

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