The place they have traditionally chosen to do all of this has been in the south and west of Ireland, particularly the counties of Cork, Kerry and Galway. This has led, how shall we put it, to a certain bustle.
In high season there can be bumper-to-bumper traffic jams on some of the more popular routes, such as the Ring of Kerry, meaning a reduction in the traveler’s sense of exploring an ancient landscape.
Those who seek that sense of isolation and tranquility, without sacrificing comfort, might be advised to take advantage of a new route exploring the “real” Ireland devised by two counties in the north, co-operating across the border.
Rather than compete with each other, the authorities in County Donegal and Limavady Town in Derry have joined together to showcase the unique attractions both areas have to offer those who enjoy the quiet, but undoubted, pleasures of touring by car.
Calling their project Atlantic Drift, they are promoting also the two short ferry crossings across Loughs Foyle and Swilly as well as the fabulous beaches of the Inisowen peninsula and the North Derry coastline.
Prior to the ferry crossings, motorists would have had long detours around both loughs to access the unspoiled beaches (Benone in Limavady, Five Fingers in Inisowen are but two), mountains and villages.
Now two short sea journeys take visitors across the waves, pleasurable experiences in themselves.
Moreover, the hotels and guesthouses springing up along the way, like the Radisson in Limavady, McGrory’s of Culdaff and restaurants like Kealey’s Seafood in Greencastle and the Lime Tree in Limavady, cater for the inner man (and woman).
Atlantic Drift is proving an unexpected success for the two far-seeing councils – motivated by common sense rather than high politics. A route map and information on places to see and things to do is available (see below).
The original spark came from the unlikely anvil of a joint Limavady/Donegal committee formed for the purpose of managing and marketing the Lough Foyle Ferry that links the two areas.
The council officials involved, as well as the ferry directors, wanted to spread the benefit of the new link to the surrounding region, linking the famed Northern Ireland Causeway Coast to the lesser known north and west of Counties Derry and Donegal.
Consultants drew up the obligatory business plan and an application made to Europe. Once the funding was secured, both councils agreed match funding in a partnership to maximize the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity afforded by the new Lough Foyle ferry.
“Politics played very little part in setting up the project, other than public representatives making the decision to support this development,” according to Sam McGregor, Director of Development Services in Limavady.
“It was pushed forward to open up new opportunities because of developments in infrastructure, to exploit the funding available and the need to develop tourism through the region,” he said.
And how has it worked out? “Atlantic Drift has been very much a practical success. It means we can promote the North West in both UK and overseas markets and familiarize the media and tourism trade with what we have here,” McGregor said.
It has also stimulated research into what tourists want when they visit the area and means the effects of the project are properly monitored. Market research is under way about the public response to the Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly ferries and a tourism trade survey is also planned.
“One of the project’s greatest successes is the strengthening and maturity of our relationship with Donegal County Council, a partnership which will continue to grow in the future,” McGregor said.
There have also been a number of spin-off projects between the tourism trade in Limavady and Inishowen with a “positive attitude” developing to promote both areas.
It made sense for the two councils. It makes sense also for the visitor who wants to explore a hitherto relatively unknown part of Ireland. Before long, it may become as popular as the Ring of Kerry, so you’re advised to get in quick before the madding crowd discovers it.
Get the Atlantic Drift brochure by either phoning Letterkenny (+353 74-91-21160) or (+44-28-777-60307). Alternatively visit www.irelandnorthwest.ie or www.limavady.gov.uk. Timetable for the Buncrana/Rathmullan ferry from the same numbers or website.