Ireland’s oldest “rock star” still a hit with tourists


The 60 million-year-old stones on the north Antrim coast of Northern Ireland show no sign of losing their national and international appeal.

Although visitor numbers so far this year are slightly down on last year, a significant increase in tourists from the Republic of Ireland has been a welcome boost.

It is not on the same scale as the cross-border shopping phenomenon, but there is a steady rise in the number of Euro-tourists travelling north.

The evidence can be seen in the car park of the Giant’s Causeway. Some days, one in every two vehicles has a Republic of Ireland registration plate.

This increase in southern sight-seers is helping the northern rock.

Value for money

John Carroll from Waterford visited the causeway for the first time this week, with his sons Dean (eight) and Jonathan (11). It was the first time the family had crossed the border.

The main reason for the five-hour trip, he said, was “value for money”.

He said he couldn’t afford to go abroad, and the favourable Euro-Pound exchange rate, persuaded him to head north rather than south this summer

This was expected to be a difficult year on the tourism front in Northern Ireland, as a result of the recession.

Also, the killing of two soldiers and a policeman by dissident republicans in March sent a negative image of the country around the world just as many people were making their summer plans.

A very wet July didn’t help either, but visitor numbers at the causeway last month are believed to be around the same as last year, at approximately 111,000. That equates to more than 3,000 visitors a day.

Global visitors

Coach tour records for July reveal that they welcomed visitors from Israel, Russia, China, Japan, Taiwan, Austria, Switzerland, Portugal, Malta, Mexico, Norway, Finland, Holland, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA as well as regular tours from the UK mainland and the Republic of Ireland.

Staff have noticed an increase in the number of people paying in euro in both the car park and souvenir shops.

Last Sunday, an overflow car park in a grass field adjacent to the site had to be opened to accommodate the stream of traffic even though it was rainy day.

The car park is run by Moyle District Council, while the causeway is owned by the National Trust.

Like most tourist attractions these days, it is impossible to move without seeing someone with a digital camera, or taking a photograph with a mobile phone.

Yet some age-old traditions remain. During the month of July, staff sold 10,258 postcards in the Tourist Information Centre.

There has been an increase in the number of campervans using the car park compared to previous years – an indication, perhaps, of people seeking a more affordable way to holiday.

The advantage for cross-border visitors is that they can get to Northern Ireland by road and don’t have to pay air or ferry fares.

Between January and March this year, holiday trips from the Republic doubled.

The peace process and the improved political situation have transformed Northern Ireland’s tourism potential in recent years

One thing that hasn’t changed is the weather. It’s still unpredictable and only a brave or foolish tourist plans a day to the causeway without thinking about bringing a waterproof.

In spite of all the advances in the past 60 million years, no-one can control the climate. Not even giants.