A new heritage and leisure trail that highlights Wexford’s historic Norman links got off on the right track when it was launched by Chairperson of Wexford County Council Tony Dempsey.
At a special ceremony in the Irish National Heritage Park, Cllr Dempsey introduced guests to the ‘Norman Way Tourism Trail’, a plan which will link remains of authentic Norman settlements in Wexford. The initial phase of the trail will extend from Our Lady’s Island to Kilmore Quay and includes New Ross town and the Ros Tapestry. Speaking at the launch, Cllr Tony Dempsey said that the trail will help local people to ‘reconnect with their origins’.
‘I’d say if you looked at the DNA of many Wexford people, they are bound to be of Norman origin,’ he said. ‘We know about our history around World War II and of course,1916, but we aren’t as familiar with our Norman history. This will give people a chance to visit places that are not often recognised and reconnect with the past.’
The trail is expected to provide a huge tourism boost to the county. Wexford County Council has received €180,000 from Failte Ireland for the development of the initiative as part of the New Ideas in Ancient Spaces fund under the Ireland’s Ancient East programme. Funding will go towards interpretation panels, signage, bicycle racks and access to the sites. Executive Planner with Wexford County Council Sonia Hunt is one of the key people involved in getting the trail off the ground. She said that it will help to resurrect some of Wexford’s sites that are currently not in use.
‘There are a lot of Norman sites that are just sitting there doing nothing at the moment,’ she said. ‘A lot of people don’t even know the significance of these sites or know that they are there. The trail will help to bring many of these places to life.’
Work is already underway on the trail, with the first phase set to be in place by March or April of this year. The aim of it is to create a unique visitor experience which brings people through Our Lady’s Island, Tomhaggard, Kilmore Quay, Bannow, Tintern, Fethard, Hookhead and to New Ross.
The first phase of the plan will develop the town of New Ross as its tourism centre through utilising the story of William Marshall. Several additional features will boost the trail’s tourism potential further.
‘There is also going to be a cycle route for European tourists who arrive on the boat in Rosslare,’ explained Ms Hunt. ‘We will probably advertise this on the boat itself. Hopefully it will give people a reason to stay in Wexford rather than go elsewhere right away.’
An app that pinpoints historic sites, cafes and other places of interest in Wexford is also due to be launched. ‘It’s endless what you can offer on it because Wexford has so much to offer,’ said Ms Hunt.
Director of Services for Economic Development and Planning Council Tony Larkin said that although they don’t expect the trail to create to a huge amount of direct employment in Wexford, it will have a knock-on effect on business in other areas such as hotels and bed and breakfasts.
‘The development of the Norman Way will give hotels a hook and lead to expansion for them,’ he said. ‘It will help them to expand their tourist season outside of the summer.’
Although this first phase is not yet completed, Mr Larkin already has his sights set on the next phase which will centre on Ferns.
‘We hope to develop Ferns as the next core hub,’ he explained. ‘We are working with local people and will hold a seminar in February where we will speak with top historians and piece together the most important pieces of Ferns history.’
The Ireland’s Ancient East programme is geared to maximise the history and heritage in the region and bring it to greater international attention. Speaking at the launch, Client Services Officer with Failte Ireland Eimear Whittle said that the initiative has the potential to deliver an extra 600,000 overseas visitors to the region and increase visitor revenue by almost 25 per cent to €950 mn by 2020.