Critical decisions needed on ‘roots’ tourism

The emigration statues. (2110BM01)
The emigration statues. (2110BM01)
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Sir,

The Irish Government’s recent announcement that 2013 will be the year of “The Gathering” was a timely boost for Derry’s City of Culture.

Billed as the country’s biggest ever tourism initiative, Tourism Ireland’s marketing campaign for The Gathering will be aimed primarily at Ireland’s diaspora.

The City Council and ILEX now need to make some critical decisions to strengthen Derry’s competitive position in Ireland’s roots tourism market-place.

Derry’s quays were witness to much mass emigration of Irish and Scots-Irish over the centuries to what is now the United States of America. Many others crossed the Irish Sea to Scotland and England to settle whilst others boarded ships for Canada and Australia. So Derry should be well placed to compete for a share of the Irish diaspora returning in 2013.

However a quick Google search for “Ireland” and “emigration” shows how other centres on the island are better positioned to capture the attention of any potential roots-tourist.

Cobh has a dedicated emigration heritage centre complete with statue of Annie Moore and her two brothers.

The Ulster American Folk Park near Omagh has an Emigrant’s Exhibition including a Dockside (based on Derry’s Quays) and full size replica of an emigrant ship.

Belfast, home to the Ulster Historical Foundation, has been gifted by the NI Executive a £30m Public Records Office, which is situated close by the soon to be completed £97m Titanic Signature Building.

So, what’s happening here?

In contrast, according to minutes available on the Council’s website, Derry’s fledgling Archive and Genealogy Service is going to be decanted from the 1880s-built Harbour Commissioners’ Offices on Harbour Square and relocated for an unspecified period to the 1980s-built Craft Village.

Derry’s Quays, the point of departure for so many emigrants, are lost on a radically remodelled riverfront cut-off from the Harbour Square by the expressway. Derry’s emigration statues, created by the late Eamon O’Doherty, have been relocated down beside Sainsbury’s car-park.

The decision-makers in the Council and ILEX do not need to commission a consultant’s report to determine how best to position Derry, a leading Irish emigration port, as a focal point of The Gathering.

Three steps

The required steps are obvious:

1. Finish the restoration and renovation of the former Harbour Commissioners’ Office in Harbour Square well before 2013.

2. Return the Archive and Genealogy Service to Derry’s Harbour Square and re-house it permanently in the only authentic maritime building remaining on Derry’s waterfront.

3. Identify and create a proper “emigrants’ point of departure” on the riverfront, at Harbour Square, and bring back the Emigrant Statues from Sainsbury’s car-park.

Act now to give the Irish diaspora returning for The Gathering in 2013 a memorable and, most importantly, an authentic experience on Derry’s Quays.

Yours,

ALTNAGELVIN OBSERVER

(Name and address supplied)