Tourism and community leaders gathered in the tiny village of Gortahork, Donegal, in northwest Ireland this weekend to finalize details on a pilgrimage, dubbed “Santiago Columba’ named after a medieval monk, that could attract thousands more visitors to western Scotland and Ireland.
Organized by The Islands Book Trust, led by John Randall, ably supported by the ever-helpful Mairi, in association with Colmcille Éirinn is Alba and supported by Bòrd na Gàidhlig and Foras na Gaeilge, the three-day conference which ended today (Sunday) aims to develop a heritage trail – Slí Cholmcille (Slighe Chaluim Chille) – based on the travels of the Celtic monk, Columba.
Organisers say such a project would not only inform Irish and foreign visitors about local history, archaeology, folklore and heritage but also create employment and business for hotels, B&Bs, cafes, restaurants, museums and bars alike in the two regions. The trail would follow in part, Ireland’s designated ‘Wild Atlantic Way.’
The project is supported by renown authors-cum-academics such as University College Cork’s Máire Herbert (Iona, Kells, and Derry: The History and Hagiography of the Monastic Familia of Columba) and Brian Lacey (Saint Columba: His Life & Legacy), who both lectured at the conference.
With additional speakers such as University of Galway’s Mícheál Ó Dónaill, Calum MacGilleain, Tristan ap Rheinallt and Aidan O’Hara from Scotland, Noel O’Gallchoir from Gaoth Dobhair, Noleen Ni Cholla, Moira Ni Ghallchoir, Maolcholaim Scott, Liam O’Cuinneagain and even the King of Tory Island himself, Patsy Dan MacRuaidhri, the conference comprehensively analysed the tantalizing persona of Columba from the sociological, archaeological, historical, religious and mythological perspectives. And, more importantly, how interest in the fellow can be turned into a dollars and cents/euros and pennies booster for local tourism.
But the development of Sli Cholmcille is just the tip of the cultural tourism iceberg.
A quick glance at the local newspapers – the Donegal News and the Donegal Democrat – this weekend alone, shows a rich vein of such tourism activity – including the weekly music seisúns and this summer’s ‘Gaelturas’ initiative at Teach Hiudai Beag; the year-long programme of music and dance at Teac Jack and Leo’s Tavern; the ‘Goitse Gaoth Dobhair’ events in Bunbeg this coming weekend, which emerged from the ‘Dearg le Fearg’ language equality campaign, as well as ‘Luinneog Lunasa’ in the same area; the ‘Swell Festival’ on Arranmore; and ‘FestiFál’ and ‘Evil Eye Festival’ in Falcarragh to name but a few.
Other diverse activities include rock-climbing, wind-surfing and kayaking with Rock agus Roam; horse and pony riding at the Dunlewey Trekking Centre and elsewhere; the craft demonstrations at Ionad Cois Locha; and the educational Walking Donegal, the hill, coast and lake hiking with informed guide, Seamus Doohan, as well as specialised walks such as the ‘Tullaghbegley Heritage Walking Weekend.’ Calls were made for Udaras na Gaeltachta, the largest economic development organisation in NW Ireland, the worst unemployment black-spot in the entire nation, to provide greater funding for cultural tourism projects.
The art of creative writing also provides opportunities for literary tourism developments in the region.
The idyllic landscapes and seascapes of Donegal have been an inspiration to many best-selling novelists and short story authors who have set their plots within or around the county, in genres ranging from sci-fi to literary fiction and fantasy, as well as plays. These writers include Brian Friel, Edna O’Brien, Sophia Hillan, Kenneth Gregory, Emma Heatherington, Michael Harding and Laurence Donaghy, some of whom will speak at Ireland’s newest writing retreat ‘Forgotten County, Remembered Words’ from June 28th to July 4th in Gaoth Dobhair.