Religious heritage & tourism in Northern Ireland: opportunities, development, obstacles

Research output: Other contributionpeer-review


Northern Ireland has a long history (circa 30 years) of terrorism, which has been beamed by the media across the English-speaking world and even worldwide. Not surprisingly, the region’s tourism industry has been affected in terms of receipts and visitors, unsuitable tourism developments because of a poor economic and social image, and a lack of suitable infrastructure. However, the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 have generated significant improvements for the tourism industry, and in 2007 tourism contributed £535m to the Northern Ireland economy. Nonetheless, Northern Ireland’s temperate climate and location on the periphery of Western Europe don’t make it an obvious holiday destination. As a consequence, diversification of the tourism product and the development of niche markets are essential to enable Northern Ireland to compete in the international market and attract the overseas holidaymaker. Thus, a number of opportunities for tourism growth have been identified by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board through the development of five Signature Projects, one of which is St Patrick and the Christian Heritage.Northern Ireland has a wealth of Christian heritage attractions and, in particular, attractions linked to St Patrick including the burial site of the Saint in Downpatrick, St Patrick’s Centre Multimedia Exhibition also in Downpatrick, the first church founded by the Saint at Saul, the two Cathedrals in Armagh (one Protestant and one Catholic), St Patrick’s Trian (a visitor centre which tells the story of Armagh and the work of the Saint here), various festivals held on St Patrick’s Day etc. These attractions are connected through the St Patrick’s Trail, which follows in the footsteps of the Saint. In addition, Northern Ireland’s religious heritage incorporates events and attractions linked to the history of the region such as the 12th of July Parades, which celebrate Protestant King William III victory’s over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne and, various aspects of the Troubles.But are visitors to Northern Ireland interested in the region’s religious history? Does Northern Ireland have enough religious sites and attractions to become established as a religious tourism destination? Will the development of religious tourism in the region benefit the local economy and the communities within which the religious attractions are located? And most importantly, are the public and private sectors and other organizations such as religious institutions, willing to collaborate to develop and promote religious tourism in Northern Ireland?In order to answer these questions, the proposed paper investigates the views of public and private sector organizations and other institutions within Northern Ireland on the development and promotion of religious tourism in the region, and if willingness exists, among the different players, to collaborate to assist opportunities associated with religious sites and attractions. This investigation is based on data collected in 2008 through archival research, onsite observations, and structured in-depth interviewing sessions conducted with representatives of public tourist bodies, private tourist organizations, and religious institutions.
Original languageEnglish
TypePaper presented at the Tourism, religion, & culture: regional development through meaningful tourism experiences conference
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 28 Oct 2009


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