The force is strong at Limerick City and County Council headquarters

THE enthusiasm of local councillors over plans to develop a tourism strategy for Limerick knew no bounds at County Hall last week with calls to make the city “the Star Wars Capital of Ireland”.

Other brainwaves included calls to bring international music acts U2 and Ed Sheeran to Thomond Park for concerts.

Members of Limerick City and County Council were meeting last week to discuss a draft of the Limerick Tourism Development and Marketing Strategy 2017-2023.

The ambitious plan aims to see Limerick internationally recognised as a world-class location to visit. As part of the strategy, the local authority envisions bringing 1.1 million visitors to the region in the next six years, thereby generating a revenue of €360.6 million locally and creating 150 new jobs.

Operating under the four main themes of ‘Into the Blue’, ‘Energy Unleashed’, ‘Medieval Strongholds’ and ‘Alive and Kicking’, the strategy’s goals include strengthening Limerick’s appeal to mainland Europe, the U.S. and Asian Pacific — offsetting the adverse impact of Brexit.

The force was strong in Sinn Fein councillor Séighin Ó Ceallaigh who called for Limerick to be included on the Wild Atlantic Way. The City East representative found the council’s lack of faith disturbing and believed Limerick, as a “side route” on the west coast tourism trail, is currently losing out to Kerry, Galway, Mayo and Sligo.

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Ó Ceallaigh also saw great potential in Troy Studios and urged the local authority to be at one with the force.

“I was in Kerry last summer and the place was packed with tourists brought in by the last Star Wars film. You could be waiting 20 minutes just to get a cup of coffee in the cafes. We should now be asking for Limerick to be the location for the next movie, the ninth in the Star Wars saga.

“Lets make Limerick Ireland’s Star Wars capital. We have the mountains, we have the river and we have the studio,” he enthused.

Independent councillor Emmett O’Brien was “impressed” with the level of detail contained within the draft strategy but wants to see the Shannon Estuary utilised as part of future plans.

“In the past it seems to have been an annoyance more than anything else,” he told council members.

Fellow Independent councillor John Loftus also felt more should be done with the River Shannon.

“In the past, when Riverfest was on, the events weren’t held anywhere near the river but all hidden away at the market. You would think we were ashamed of it. Limerick is a beautiful place with a magnificent river and we need to utilise that,” he said.

Fine Gael councillor Marion Hurley was encouraged to see Shannon Airport “coming into play” and felt it important that Limerick City and County Council work closely with the Shannon Group and Clare County Council to “make it work for us”.

“We cannot undermine that airport, it is the jewel in our crown,” she said.

Cllr Hurley also spoke of “the amazing soccer clubs in Limerick” and suggested that more be done to promote the Market’s Field stadium.

Mayor Stephen Keary claimed that Limerick is not able to get tourists into the region, and keep them here.

“The city hasn’t been developed and cleaned up to the level it needs. There’s a mound of 100,000 tonnes of scrap metal on the Dock Road, which is not an attractive site. There’s lots of work to be done at King John’s Castle. We need to look at ourselves and take care of some housekeeping,” the Fine Gael politician suggested.

Party colleague Elenora Hogan wanted to know why there weren’t more concerts at Thomond Park.

“U2 started here in Limerick and I see they are now planning concerts in Dublin and Belfast. Why can’t they do one in Thomond Park?” she enquired.

Fianna Fail councillor Vivienne Crowley agreed, that as a concert venue, Thomond Park has been “underwhelming”.

“It is highly underused as a concert venue. This is something that needs to change. If you put on Ed Sheeran here they would be bussing in from every part of the country,” she said.

Operations manager at Limerick City and County Council, Brian Kennedy, who was described as “the go-to man” for the strategy, said he was delighted with the feedback and reminded councillors that it’s still a work in progress.

“This is a strategy document. The finished document will go before the full council in March,” he explained.

by Alan Jacques