Illuminating the Future at the Great Lighthouses of Ireland Gathering
With a shared commitment and confidence, delegates restate ambition to deliver distinct coastal experiences as lighthouse tourism continues to flourish.
Lighthouse, marine and tourism leaders met in Belfast on Sunday 8th October last to kick off a three-day Great Lighthouses of Ireland conference, planning future growth for lighthouse tourism.
The partnership is led by Irish Lights, who founded it in 2015, and is made up of public, private and community sector partners.
“Lighthouses have such a special and universal appeal and are located in some of our island’s most breathtaking coastal landscapes, and are a valuable asset in the destination and community,” says Bobby Kerr, chairperson of the Great Lighthouses of Ireland partnership, who also notes that the pre-Covid economic benefit of Ireland's shining beacons was worth an estimated €16.8m, supporting more than 400 jobs.
Post-Covid visitor numbers have continued to grow, whilst overnight stays at Lighthouses around the island have risen by 60%.
Kicking things off
The conference opened at the Titanic Hotel in Belfast on Sunday 8th October, with an introduction by Bobby Kerr and an opening session by Irish Lights CEO Yvonne Shields O’Connor, who focused on the need to create a vision for developing lighthouse tourism.
Maria McAlister, Tourism NI Manager for Landscapes and Activities, meanwhile, addressed opportunities for Northern Ireland.
And Kerrie Sweeney, CEO of Maritime Belfast, talked about the unique and successful maritime heritage destination it represents.
The gathering then moved to Rathlin Island on Monday 9th October, to discuss how to collaborate and develop new experiences based on future visitor and community interests. This session was opened by Denis McMahon, Permanent Secretary at the NI Department for Infrastructure.
Specific projects in focus included the community partnership around Fanad Lighthouse – voted one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world. They also discussed the lighthouses of Rathlin and how they can contribute towards the shared vision associated with a sustainable island and visitor experiences.
On Tuesday 10th October, the conference moved to Blackhead Lighthouse in Whitehead, Co Antrim.
Jason Powell of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council talked about what’s involved in building a community cluster and experiences. Niamh Lunny, CEO, Irish Landmark Trust discussed the unique value of offering lighthouse accommodation and visitor experiences.
Amid the panel discussions and talks there was time for enjoying our coastal areas through activities like coastal path and lighthouse tours and Gathering lunches. But the focus of the three days remained on collaborating to lay the groundwork for an even more robust industry, and importantly included the Great Lighthouses of Ireland partners meeting, which gave partners the chance to discuss and give feedback on the emerging GLI Strategy.
“Recovery is underway and Great Lighthouses of Ireland is well positioned for the future,” says Yvonne Shields O’ Connor.
“We share a vision and collaborate as partners to create truly inspiring and transformative visitor experiences. It’s time now to be more ambitious about what we can achieve together.”
“Growing lighthouse tourism has multiple benefits. It’s a positive and sustainable way to preserve our maritime heritage. It can provide income and jobs for coastal communities and increase visitor numbers to the island of Ireland.”
Ms Shields O’Connor says Great Lighthouses of Ireland has developed a network of lighthouses and marine tourism activities with their partners who all pull together to share expertise and boost growth.
A bright future
Eimear Callaghan, Head of Programmes at Tourism Northern Ireland, said the conference provided a welcome opportunity “...to explore a number of lighthouse related projects in Northern Ireland. This included visits to Maritime Belfast, Rathlin Island and Blackhead Lighthouse in Co Antrim.”
“We want to harness the appeal of lighthouses for the benefit of the wider destination and community. In collaboration with public, private and community partners, our goal is to develop sustainable visitor experiences based around our rich maritime heritage and culture.”