Circulating around both the tourism honey pots, and some of the lesser-known gems of Ireland, this year’s Irish geoheritage conference was staged in a locality halfway between Dublin and Belfast that is the focus of the Mourne Cooley Gullion geotourism project.
Ireland has been at the forefront of appreciating and utilising its physical and cultural landscapes in terms of conservation and tourism development. It is not surprising, therefore, that the geoparks concept has quickly taken root here. The conference, coordinated jointly by the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland and the Geological Survey of Ireland, brings together participants from localities that are already within the geoparks ‘family’, and new or aspiring regions that are eager to find out more about this approach and see if can fit their needs.
Far from being simply a geologists’ talking shop, this year’s conference placed an even stronger emphasis on linking up with key tourism agencies. Through comments and presentations made by representatives from Tourism Ireland, Northern Ireland Tourism Board and Fáilte Ireland, it is clear that landscapes are a central feature for domestic and international tourism across Ireland.
To ensure a healthy two-way flow of information, the platform was also used to pursue discussions through a number of workshops, which proved to be vibrant and stimulating. Since geoparks are all about the ‘great outdoors’, it was fitting that the conference finished off with a tour of this fascinating borderlands, coast and mountains region, where we had opportunities to talk through a number of practical issues emerging around this busy little nexus of natural, cultural and political considerations.