Category: Archive

‘Rough’ stuff

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Responses to the famous guidebook’s assessment were mixed, but many Northern Irish locals and visitors agreed, saying that its straight-talking was a wake-up call to tourism chiefs who’d failed to erode the sectarian symbolism that still pervades in many towns and which allegedly intimidates many visitors.
Miserable and unwelcoming was the broad characterization for many towns in the Northern Ireland, including Larne, Strabane, Newry and Dungannon.
The new edition of the Rough Guide, known for its plain, unadorned advice, did find over a third of the 28 unmissable sights in Ireland to be in the Six Counties and applauded beauty spots such as the Giant’s Causeway and the Fermanagh Lakelands.
On the cover was the well-known Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge from the North Antrim coast, but the inside pages told another tale.
Newry in County Down has little to tempt any visitor and the nearby seaside vacation spot of Newcastle is “a soulless strip of amusement arcades, fast-food outlets and tacky souvenir stores,” the guide says.
Antrim and Ballymena were “fairly grim,” while Larne was described as “grim and ugly.”
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board said it was not troubled by the characterizations.
Said Jim Perry of the NITB’s corporate services: “Predominantly the number of journalists that are coming at the moment are travel journalists. The experience of these journalists and the feedback to us is extremely positive.”
But readers’ comments on various websites suggested that locals and visitors alike to Northern Ireland share the Rough Guide’s point of view.
Ciaran, who said he was an Irish man living in Germany, opined: “I think the Rough Guide is spot on with its evaluation of tourist attractions in NI and this is due mainly to decades of neglect by various governments of the time failing to invest in anything other than the ‘bare minimum’ and also 65 percent of the population’s xenophobic attitude to everything.”
Jo from Sheffield in the UK recalled a previous visit thusly: “The combination of red, white and blue curbstones, King Billy in fairy lights over the village street, the scary Rangers pub in Bushmills, our B and B landlady’s face when I thoughtlessly said Derry instead of Londonderry — not a relaxing trip.”
However, the New York-based attorney Eamonn Dornan, a Newry native, protested the characterization of the South Down town, which was recently made a city.
“It is surrounded by the Mourne Mountains,” he said, referring to the region that is recognized as one of Ireland ‘s greatest beauty spots.
He agreed that perhaps main street Newry is noted only for its massive shopping complexes, which draw thousands from the border areas every week, but he added that, taken as a whole, the region has beauty spots as well as a remarkably thriving nightlife scene.
Over all, Dornan said: “I disagree. Newry has a lot of character to recommend it to any visitor.”
Rob from Northern Ireland wrote to the BBC and had his comments posted on that website. He said: “I think these comments are spot on, but must also be taken in context. Who in their right mind would consider a holiday to these towns, which are in dire need of help?”
In New York, a call to Tourism Ireland for comment on the Rough Guide’s assessment was returned but no one was available for comment.
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board joined forces with Bord Failte to form Tourism Ireland in 2001. A spokesperson said that senior colleagues “were all in Ireland at meetings.”

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