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Local Election Candidate Ms Catherine Fogarty Discusses Thurles Tourism

A total of 11 candidates [2 women and 9 Men] have put their names forward for selection in the 2019 Local Council Elections, promising to protect our interests in our dealings with Tipperary Co. Council. Same candidates hope to fill the 5 currently vacant seats; thus representing, for the next 5 years, the Templemore /Thurles, Municipal District, here in Co. Tipperary.

In alpha order, their names are Mr Tommy Barrett (Independent); Mr Michael Bracken (Independent); Mr Fergal Butler (Fianna Fáil); Mr David Doran (Formerly incoming Sinn Féin & Outgoing Independent); Ms Catherine Fogarty (Independent); Mr Seamus Hanafin (Outgoing Fianna Fáil); Mr Micheál Lowry (Outgoing Independent); Ms Ciara Mccormack (Sinn Féin); Mr Jim Ryan (Outgoing Independent); Mr Peter Ryan (Fine Gael); and Mr Sean Ryan (Outgoing Fianna Fáil).

In an “Open Letter” posted on this website addressed to the above named 11 local candidates seeking election, [published on Sunday May 12th last]; to discuss in particular ‘Tourism’, latter a subject distinctively absent from all political paraphernalia pushed through letterboxes; today we received our first and only reply to-date.

Ms Catherine Fogarty emailed Thurles.Info today and same communication can be read hereunder.

It should be fully noted that Ms Fogarty is the only election candidate going forward for election, who fully refrained from using all advertising, through the use of strategically parked motor vehicles, election posters, glossy brochures and junk mail. She has chosen instead for the voting public to make their decision, based on her considerable voluntary work; undertaken within the Thurles local community.

Focus on Thurles local election candidate Ms Catherine Fogarty.

Ms Fogarty writes:-
“Thank you for the opportunity to discuss Tourism in Thurles.
I think the potential is immense, but find there is a lack of focus on this sector. I have attached some thoughts and look forward to the feedback on your website.”

Catherine Fogarty - ”Tourism Thoughts for Thurles“.

“The town crest features the motto “Fleadh agus Failte” a Banquet and a Welcome. We should look to this to make our town thrive again – so many other towns in Ireland have been successful – we can too!

In the past I have collaborated with George Willoughby’s dedication to the cause, by insisting that Shannon Development replace the poor quality, “Welcome to Thurles Map”, they produced with something more reflective of the Tourism offering, locally. If you recall Shannon Development released a map using only 50% of the surface and included images of Bunratty Castle, St John’s Castle, Craggaunowen and Lough Gur. It gave the impression that we were too lazy to promote our area or had nothing to promote. Thanks to our combined efforts 10,000 new maps were produced.

All of these are in circulation, as I rescued 5,300 from the cleaner’s closet in the staff canteen of Shannon Development property, latter once situated in Tipp. Technology Park.

Since Shannon Development was wound up in 2012 the responsibility for Tourism and Industrial Development in Tipperary has been allocated to Failte Ireland and IDA respectively.

Important to note that local effort is vital to improve our tourism product. Tipperary Tourism is new and improved since the merger in 2014, however their two lead products are Lough Derg in the north and Munster Vales in the south. I have suggested to them that the peat way development in Littleton could be the product that Mid and East Tipperary, can use as a core magnet.

As chairperson of Refresh Tidy Towns; I suggested that we adopt the orphaned Tourist Information Signs in the Square. I personally repainted them red, added new lettering and replaced some of the perspex.

We did believe Liberty Square redevelopment was imminent, however now I would not expect it to go to tender until sometime this year; so, a start date for the car park would be possibly late 2020 with work on the Square to follow. Note: My intuition on this – no information as to Council’s realistic timetable. The area is now forlorn with very poor footpaths and street furniture.

I did provide Thurles Town Centre Forum, in 2018, with details of the EU’s Wifi for EU Voucher scheme (Mr Sean Kelly MEP provided me with the details re application). Tipperary Co. Council did apply and secured 4 vouchers for the whole county. The Council’s Broadband Officer assures me that consideration will be given to allocating a voucher to Liberty Square. This will hopefully assist with bringing footfall to the square and assist in online promotion of events / attractions / bookings and other enquiries.

Similarly, I assisted Hayes Hotel in applying for an ‘Online Trading Voucher’. This supported their plan to install a ‘booking engine’ on their website. (I was not working at the hotel, but I contacted them about the opportunity). Note: A booking engine allows the website to take bookings instantly. Plenty of scope for other businesses to install booking engines and use online promotion to meet the potential customer online as they search for that product/experience. Hook those fishes when they are looking! Convert interested people into customers supporting our local economy. The voucher provides funding up to €2,500 for IT Consultation/software installation. T&Cs apply.

In 2013 with the assistance of Ms Rona Sorrell and Mr John Lanigan, a survey of approach road signage was completed. We have been pursuing this updating of road signage. In Dec. 2018 we were informed that the Councillors were to provide their response to signage options presented to them in September 2018. The District Administrator did arrange to put the matter on the Agenda after Christmas and some of the proposals have been displayed on this website. As a group we are not happy with the proposed signage. The signs are too harried, and the inclusion of images and the actual images selected all need to be simplified in our opinion. For roadside signage the user must be considered. Vehicles travelling at speed cannot see details inset in leaves or read a multiplicity of text. Creating the signage via ad hoc committees is not a good process. The new branding may be successful in documents / packaging and online, but not on roadside signs. Additionally, this signage project is minimal – we need an inclusive approach to wayfinding for our many visitor assets.

I have pursued the restoration of the www.thurles.ie – dormant since approx. 2010. In brief it will be launched later this month. The issue of ongoing maintenance is interesting. I am certainly willing to be of assistance in updating content and creating social media posts. Council budgets need to be updated to include provision of online presence and promotion tools. It must be vibrant, up to date and engaging, if it is to be beneficial to the town. I have sought a newsletter sign-up as a feature. Allows the town to capture contact details with permission to contact the person in the future. For me an inclusive Town Team is the way to proceed, if we are to be successful.

Each year I have tried to encourage local events along the theme selected for Heritage Week, I have compiled a list of local highlights and created an infographic to share online, with the Hotels, and created signage for display in Cabragh Wetlands, Library, Railway Station and one of the Tourist Information Signs at Ulster Bank. This was funded by a Refresh Thurles Tidy Towns grant via Tipperary County Council. Participation in Heritage Week increases the town’s profile and builds local event capacity.

Funding for Tourism is also an issue – the Municipal District Council do not fund tourism projects directly. Groups need to engage with Leader to secure funding, but they do have monies to distribute.

In the future what could be achieved?

I would offer to work 20 hours a week in Lar Na Pairce as a tourism animator / collaborator / information point / social media management point, if I was elected as a councillor. Indeed, if elected I would love to blend this with Tidy Towns projects as my full-time job. (While also fulfilling all Council related duties).

Thurles is an attractive town but needs much more care – council does fail to repair / replace items promptly. The damaged signage at corner near Premier insurances should have been removed immediately and later repaired. This neglect is embarrassing as has been rightly pointed out here. The Council does not act as the town’s guardian. First impressions matter.

I believe that Lar Na Pairce was purchased by Shannon Development and sold to Thurles Development Association for one old pound. Now that the shop is closed the building could revert to being a Tourism and Heritage Centre. A hub for all tourism providers to connect, a venue for tourism related events built on the magnet that the GAA museum should be. As I write this on Sunday May 19th, I note a tweet from Hong Kong – someone watching the match on GAAGO. Our local stadium has a global market and brand that we need to exploit to benefit our local economy.

The town model created by Jim Condon (purchased privately by George Willoughby and encased by funding from North Tipperary Co. Council), could be proudly displayed as a focal point. Tipperary County Board could be tenants upstairs, car park could be a source of revenue to fund Tourism activities – yes, a committee would be required to act on governance and remit. Perhaps the Tipperary Heartland members could provide a sub-committee to manage this effort? Important to be locally led – many of our key business in town are owned by non-residents e.g. Anner Hotel and Tipperary Star – local commitment is vital to success in my opinion.

While the town is situated on a River, virtually nothing has been done to promote the river as an amenity. We, in Refresh Thurles have developed a River celebration event this year, “Suirfest, Our River, Our Story”, and hope to promote the river as a vital element in our environment. It is a habitat, but it is also an amenity for several activities, but it is severely underdeveloped in the sense of access and pollution is also a cause for concern. Creating local infrastructure for canoeing and ensuring the river was fit for purpose would attract visitors with the option to travel virtually all the Suir to the Sea. It would be our ambition to develop the event to incorporate a Food Festival in Thurles. There is a need for Council funding to develop the river as an amenity in this area north of Cahir.

Our assets for tourism are immense – access, road / rail, local bus companies available, beautiful setting, 3 hotels approx. 190 rooms, magnets like Lisheen Castle, Farney Castle, Jim of the Mills, Source Arts Centre, Sporting events, Colleges for Conference venues, Semple Stadium Matches/Music, Holycross and Kilcooley Abbey, Walking in Grange, Doire Bhille, Upperchurch, Cabragh Wetlands, Coolmore, Devil’s Bit, Equestrian, Horse Racing, Fishing, Rich History of town from 580AD and Tipperary Studies to assist exploration. Pubs and live music offering are great. Our Festivals need improving to standard of events that are targeted at bringing visitors rather than an event for residents. Both can enjoy the Festival. Target audience impacts on the offering and the promotion. Utilising the services of AOIFE would aid this work.

Feile has returned and this year we can expect to see an additional Music Trail in town centre and improved offering at the Stadium. Council has funded this Music trail to extent of €15,000 so it is important to examine carefully the product offered and the ROI for the taxpayer. There is an opportunity cost in respect of this funding.

We have wonderful people in Thurles that provide a complex social and cultural offering – our biggest asset to providing a great visitor experience that will provide great word of mouth and positive recommendations.

Similarly, the two colleges are a potential source of visitors/events for our town and means of creating town ambassadors. We have many links abroad – this too is a source of visitors. Two of our schools offer boarding services – some from abroad. Each year Templemore Garda College hosts police officers from across Europe for training. They spend from 10 days to 4 weeks in the Anner Hotel. Their weekends and some evenings are free. We should tap into these people to provide some great local experiences that they may promote/return to visit with their families. During the week I met one such lady from Bosnia Herzegovina on her way to see the Cathedral interior.

Vacant buildings in poor condition are a challenge and we need an additional evening dining options while another hotel with 80 – 100 rooms would make the town eligible for additional Failte Ireland funding.

Failte Ireland aspire to creating new destination towns – will Thurles take on this challenge? Approximately 76% of all tourism nights are delivered in 7 counties. The new branding for Ireland’s Hidden Heartland which Tipperary can use is ideal for Thurles. Slow adventures can be had here.

We can also use the Ireland’s Ancient East Branding which was devised for all areas east of the Shannon excluding Dublin. The number one asset in IAE is the Rock of Cashel. We can benefit from visitors to Cashel. Many would find a tour of Holycross Abbey, with its local very well-trained guides, to be a more satisfactory experience than Cashel.

Indeed in 2017, 32 coaches of visitors came to Upperchurch on their itinerary from a Kerry base. They walked, tried hurling, dancing and footed turf – the majority gave this experience a higher rating than visiting the Cliffs of Moher! Our local assets in Thurles can give the visitor a memorable experience.

Amenities under development at present are the Lions Club River Walk and a Council funded feasibility study for a ‘peat way’ in Littleton Bog. The latter will seek to link with Walking and Cycling options in Thurles. The vacant Farm Building in the Town Park is to be made available to the Farmers Market. But this needs to move along promptly – the Farmers market will bring vibrancy to the area but there is potential for other uses in the building to make it hum more than one day per week.

Perhaps here is not the place to ask about the assets of the Thurles Famine Museum – could it be reassembled in a new location in Thurles? Perhaps the Lar na Pairce building could be a home – providing a vital source of footfall for Slievenamon Road with visitors free to ramble north or south?

Agri Tourism and food production are sectors that we should be successful in – we have the assets and the platform to do so. Local food served to visitors enriches their visit and makes it more memorable.

Training for local people via Failte Ireland’s local experts’ program would be beneficial. Every visitor should be welcomed and taken care of by people well informed about their locality. Local familiarisation for key personnel is important also.

Potential exists for creating bundles for visitors – e.g. Accommodation and tickets to a show at the Source. Guided tour of the town with accommodation partner. This needs time and effort to devise, promote and deliver the packages. This is role that a Thurles Tourism Animator could fulfil.

Ideally a role would be funded as a full-time role – probably on a contract basis perhaps with Leader or Community Services Program funding. In the meantime, I would offer my service to promoting and developing Thurles as a tourism destination because it is an area with huge potential to boost our local economy.

If we collaborate, we can extend the visitors stay and ensure a greater degree of spend in our local economy. There are some trained tour guides in Thurles – but if a group sought a tour or presentation about the town would there be someone ready?

Last year Hayes Hotel had an enquiry from an Active Retirement group for a presentation about Thurles prior to meal service – I arranged a speaker. There is huge potential and worth our while to develop some more tour guides in Thurles – thematic and general knowledge.

While there is a grouping, Tipperary Heartland Tourism, with wonderful assets I am not aware of their efforts in say the last 12 months – perhaps they could provide an update on their activities? For any voluntary group to make an impact is quite a challenge – typically the members are involved in several groups. A dedicated role in Thurles would make a huge contribution to developing our tourism product and visitor experience.

This is my offering for Thurles. Please consider me when voting on Friday May 24th.”

Signed: Catherine Fogarty.
Independent Candidate Thurles LEA.
Telephone Number: 087 270 1689.
Email: Fogartyc64@gmail.com

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