Mournes To Be Promoted as Key Tourism Destination

A major publicity drive campaign is being planned to promote the Mournes area between Down, Banbridge and Newry and Mourne District Council areas.
This initiative was finally given the green light when it was outlined at a recent Destination Mourne Tourism Management Forum Meeting in the Canal Court Hotel, Newry, on Wednesday 20 February.

The meeting was attended by Councillors and Officers from Down District, Newry and Mourne, Banbridge District Councils, Mourne Heritage Trust, Newcastle and Newry and Mourne Chambers of Commerce, Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Mourne Heritage Trust, and other key stakeholders in the tourism industry.
Newcastle Alliance Councillor Patrick Clarke who attended the meeting said: ”Presentations were made on the Destination Mournes marketing activity for 2013, Mourne Mountain bike project, Geotourism project, Destination Mourne Action Plan review, and there was an open discussion with local industry regarding tourism in the Mournes.
“I welcome the major publicity drive campaign being planned for promoting the Mournes area in the coming months which will include television, radio, local, regional and national press coverage, billboard and online advertising, promotional material and printed maps regarding the Mournes as a tourism destination area.”

Newcastle Alliance Councillor Patrick Clarke has welcomed the Destination Mournes initiative.
“There are plans also underway to have a dedicated website and social media which will also promote the Mournes area including the new mountain bike trails in Castlewellan and Rostrever, accommodation and hospitality, forest parks, walking networks, Mourne coastal walking routes, and the various other cultural, recreation, historical and tourism attractions.”
The publicity drive campaign will target main visitor markets including the domestic Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Great Britain markets to make the Mournes area a holiday destination.

Councillor Clarke said: “The Mournes is one of our most impressive and best natural tourism assets with its rich cultural and natural history. It was great to gain an overview of the ‘Developing Destination Management for Mournes Action Plan’, the opportunities now being developed and broadened to better capitalise, develop and promote the Mournes area as a tourism destination by the various Councils, statutory bodies and key tourism stakeholders.”


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Swiss-style cable car proposed for Mournes

A MOUNTAIN cable car resembling a ski lift is one of the main features in a massive plan to revamp south-east Ulster.

The device would take visitors from Newcastle up into the Mourne Mountains and could be built in as little as five years.

Called the Donard Gondola, the novel-sounding scheme is one of a package of proposals which came out yesterday in a government blueprint called the South-East Master Plan.

The master plan was actually first mooted last March, when its proposals were put out to consultation.

Now the final report has been published.

The 67-page document from Nelson McCausland’s Department for Social Development and local councils sets out measures to shore up the fortunes of the area’s economy, and in particular its tourism industry.

However, details for much of the building plans remain to be finalised – including for the gondola itself.

There is no cost for the project indicated, and the document stresses that “further consultation and feasibility work” needs to be done into it.

It is suggested that it run from Donard Park at the foot of the mountain range to Millstone Quarry or Thomas Mountain Quarry. The time frame for the project is listed as being between five and 10 years.

Asked to describe the Donard Gondola, John McArdle, the mayor of Newry and Mourne, said: “You know one of those lifts you see on the ski slopes in Switzerland?

“The whole idea is to open the Mournes, that whole range, up to tourism. I’m delighted to hear this thing is in the offing. I’m a passionate believer that we’re not selling the Mournes as they should be sold.”

But he added: “I’m surprised they’re calling it ‘gondola’. I thought those were one of the things you saw in Venice.”

In the master plan itself, it bills the device as follows: “To fully enjoy the Mournes the visitor must be reasonably fit, be prepared and have sufficient tome to complete a trek.

“The gondola would provide a facility which would enable everyone, including families with young children and disabled users, to access the Mourne Mountains.”

The plans may include building a cafe at the end of the cable car line.

The scheme is based on a similar one in Scotland – the Nevis Range gondola.

Among the other proposals in the master plan are a new marina for Warrenpoint. Gerard McGivern, Newry and Mourne council’s district development director, said this could have as many as 200 berths, and could be accompanied by a facelift of the town square and traffic system.


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Sweeping the Mournes Clean Right Down to the Sea

A group of hardy volunteers braved the wintry conditions this weekend to clear up one of Northern Ireland’s most stunning beauty spots.

119 pupils and 36 adult volunteers from Belfast Royal Academy donned their scarves and gloves on Saturday, 8th December for their 23rd Annual Mournes’ Clean-up. Every winter the North Belfast school makes an annual trek to Co. Down where they clear away tonnes of rubbish ranging from litter right through to abandoned cars, and dumped household goods. This year was no exception with stranger finds including an old tube television, a pram, and more than 40 tyres.

The environmentally conscious school has undertaken the mammoth task for the past 22 years because the Academy’s Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Centre makes use of the Mourne Mountains for expedition work on 12 to 15 weekends per year. The annual sponsored Clean-up is a way of raising money for their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Centre, as well as allowing the pupils and volunteers a chance to give something back to their host area.

This year, South Down MP, Margaret Ritchie was joined by Chris Hazzard MLA and Chairman of Newry and Mourne Council, Mickey Coogan, who were on hand to welcome the school volunteers before they set-off into the mountains and beaches of the area. Ms Ritchie commended the work of the environmentally conscious visitors to Co. Down.

“The Mourne Mountains are one of Northern Ireland’s areas of outstanding natural beauty. As such, they are increasingly important to the South Down area because of the tourism they attract. Visitors come to the area because they are interested in the natural heritage, rich environment, or inspiration the mountains have lent to poets like Percy French, or author C.S Lewis. I’m pleased that the pupils and volunteers from Belfast Royal Academy continue to make the effort to protect the area, and clean-up after those who are less respectful of what is a beautiful environment.”

Master-in-Charge, John Reilly MBE, has been organising the clean-up since its inception 23 years ago and has said that since then they have cleared over 140 tonnes of rubbish.

“Belfast Royal Academy’s Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Centre makes use of the Mourne Mountains for expedition work on 12-15 weekends per year,” he said.

“Our pupils have benefited so much from taking part in The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and the Mournes are a particular favourite amongst our pupils. They are always delighted to be giving something back and showing their appreciation for this stunning beauty spot.

“The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award promotes a sense of responsibility amongst its participants and we see this every year when we have around 150 volunteers who give up their Saturday morning and afternoon to take part.”

The Clean-up is annually supported by Down District Council, Newry and Mourne District Council and The National Trust, and is aided faithfully each year in its detailed planning and operation by The Mourne Heritage Trust.


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Work commences on exciting new tourism development

The Mourne Heritage Trust has announced that a major project to enhance the tourism potential of the south east coast of Northern Ireland commenced on Monday 24th November.

The marking of the ‘Mourne Coastal Driving Route’ with the distinctive and internationally recognised ‘White on Brown’ tourism signage will complement the existing ‘Causeway Coastal Route’ and provide a highly marketable new tourism product.

The route signage will stretch between Belfast and the city of Newry, via Belfast, the Ards Peninsula, the Lecale coast and, in the words of the famous song, ‘the place where the mountains sweep down to the sea’.

A number of scenic loops will also take visitors into the heart of the Mournes, Slieve Croob and Slieve Roosley as well as the Ards Peninsula. Several amenity sites along the intended route have been upgraded in recent years with signature entrance features and site furniture, while upgrades are planned at several other locations.

However, the phase of the development now getting underway involves only the installation of 269 new road traffic signs ranging up to 22 square metres and necessitating in some cases the removal and replacement of existing signs.

The project, which will be completed by the end of March 2013, will cover locations in the local authority areas of Belfast, North Down, Ards, Down, Newry & Mourne and Banbridge respectively. It has been developed and will be co-ordinated by Mourne Heritage Trust in conjunction with Northern Ireland Tourist Board.

The latter is also providing the bulk of the funding through its Tourism Development Scheme, with additional input from each of the relevant local councils and the Southern Organisation for Action in Rural Areas (SOAR).

Commenting on the new initiative, Stephen Bill, Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Destination Manager said, “When complete, I am confident that the Mourne Coastal Route driving trail will attract many visitors from both at home and abroad. This is a great tourism project and one which NITB is pleased to support through the Tourism Development Scheme.”

“The route’s location, from Belfast to Newry, and the amenity improvements along this scenic way, is an important element of the on-going work to build on the achievements of tourism activity in 2012 and will also contribute to strengthening Northern Ireland’s position as a must visit destination” he added.


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Villagers in turbines battle

RESIDENTS in Northern Ireland’s idyllic Mourne country are fighting a determined campaign to change the Government’s policy “of allowing wind turbines to spring up in this area of outstanding natural beauty like giant, unsightly mushrooms”.

Speaking in the coastal village of Ardglass, environmentalist John Peacocke – along with campaigners Brigid McBride and Mike Mann – spoke of the iconic landscape being spoiled by the giant turbines.

That landscape includes the Tyrella dunes, Tyrella beach, Minerstown, Coney Island, Killough Bay, St John’s Point, all to the backdrop of the Mournes.

Killough Bay is an internationally-recognised area where migrating Brent geese settle after their long flight from Canada.

With a sweep of her hand from the lounge of her home in Ardglass, Ms McBride showed all those mini-wonders, and there on the top of a hill, towering above the scenic village of Killough, is one the first of the “offending” turbines. A total of 62 applications have been received in the Down area, 16 of which have been approved, seven refused and the rest pending.

Their average height is thought to be around the 60m mark, although giants of the future could measure 124m.

In Northern Ireland as a whole, 1,500 ‘single’ turbines – as distinct from planned wind farms – are in the planning system, prompted by the fact that landowners are paid between £12,000 and £14,000 a year, over 25 years, to permit them on their land.

“The small number of turbines in this area has a horrible effect on the landscape,” said Ms McBride.

“But they will be here in dozens if the government presses ahead – and it looks as if Environment Minister Alex Attwood is determined to go ahead.”

Mr Peacocke said: “The turbines are popping up with no apparent overall plan – just like wild mushrooms.

“We realise that turbines are part of the European ‘green’ policy, but this government is riding a horse and cart through that policy. It is totally alien to this environment.”

Mr Mann said the group was entirely realistic about the need for turbines. He said: “In the case of properly planned and constructed wind farms, they are designed by experienced architects and sited – where possible – well away from towns and villages.

“For example, a major wind farm is being planned about 9km off the coast of this very village (Ardglass). We have no problems with that.”

Mr Peacocke said the off-coast farm would provide significant power for Northern Ireland, “while these metal mushrooms in this area will be totally insignificant, but Attwood and company seem hell-bent of destroying this wonderful landscape.”

He added that the “ad hoc” method of single turbines was totally unacceptable: “What it does is provide unplanned wind farm by utter stealth.

“If we don’t succeed in stopping this, these monstrosities – at various heights – will be dotted at irregular intervals all over this beautiful landscape. It will be spoiled for ever, both for locals and for tourism.”

Dr Dan Kane, chairman of the Province’s Wind Watch organisation, said that the Mournes’ “disgrace” was typical of what was happening in various parts of Northern Ireland.

He added: “This area of Co Down had largely escaped the scourge of wind turbines. But now they have arrived like the plague. The Mournes are an area of outstanding natural beauty and must be left that way – as they should leave the Glens of Antrim and the North Coast.

“There are properly-designed wind farms in various parts of Northern Ireland – in Antrim, east Tyrone, Fermanagh and Londonderry. The people of those areas were consulted all along the line.

“But as these ‘mushrooms’ suddenly appear, there is often no consultation – invariably they are being excavated before the community is aware of what’s happening.

“In Scotland, for example, any turbine must be 2km from a dwelling, but it’s 500m in Northern Ireland.

“There are many other issues – like property values, noise, safety, as well as environmental. This is a very serious issue, and in our view, it’s being pushed by civil servants rather than politicians.”

Jim Wells, MLA for South Down, said he had lobbied almost non-stop for the natural outstanding beauty of south Down to be respected by the planners, “and I will continue to do so”.

He added: “The government has laid out the criteria of these areas and the area stretching from Ardglass, across the Mournes and down the coast to Kilkeel must not be defaced any more with these turbines.

“One or two have slipped through, and that has opened the floodgates, but this must be stopped.”


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Ritchie hails ‘victory’ for Mourne sheep graziers

SDLP South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has spoken to Newry Times following a meeting which took place in her constituency office regarding Northern Ireland Water’s intention to put out to open tender all of its grazing on some of the peaks in the Mourne Mountains.

The meeting was attended by farmers who have grazing rights in the Spelga catchment area, and NI Water Director of Procurement Mr Bill Gowdy.

Ms Ritchie said: “I initially met with the Chief Executive of NI Water Mr Trevor Haslett and raised the very serious repercussions of the proposed NI Water policy to put out to open tender the grazing rights in the Mournes.

“Following this meeting with the Chief Executive of NI Water it was agreed that that Mr Bill Gowdy, NI Water Director of Procurement NI would meet with the farmers affected within the Spelga Dam catchment area. During this meeting Mr Bill Gowdy listened to the arguments put forward by the farmers and myself.

Ritchie continued, “We made the very strong case that placing grazing in the Mournes in an open tender exercise and bringing in a business system to manage the grazing of the special environment of the Mourne Mountains could put at risk the delicate environment of the Mountains, which has been protected and enhanced by the experienced pastured grazing system of Mourne farmers, and their families over many generations.”

“Only certain flocks of sheep will settle on the Mountains, so it is unclear as to whom NI Water intended to attract with open tender, apart from the farmers who have had direct experience of the Mountains and already graze the area.”

“After listening to the arguments and also hearing first-hand the devastating financial implications that would occur if these farmers lost their grazing rights, Mr Bill Gowdy advised us that NI Water had decided not to proceed with this new policy of open tender and that their intention was to keep things as they are.”

“Mr Gowdy also stated that NI Water believed the current system to be fair, open, transparent and environmentally sound. Further to this, NI Water’s Director of Procurement, Mr Gowdy apologised to the farmers for any distress and inconvenience caused as a result of this proposal to open up the tender for mountain grazing.”

She added, “I am very pleased for the farmers involved and would like to pay tribute to them for their patience and understanding over this very difficult time as some of them faced the possibility of substantial financial loss in terms of reduced eligibility for single farm payments, and the possibility of having to leave farming if their grazing rights were lost.”


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Mournes national park won’t be imposed: Alex Attwood

Environment Minister Alex Attwood has said he will not impose a National Park in County Down’s Mourne Mountains.

In a statement to the BBC, he said “the voice of opposition in the Mournes is greater than the voice of support”.

He said he was continuing to take stock on the full range of views but “a national park cannot be imposed and as things are – there won’t be one in the Mournes”.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without a national park.

A national park is an area of protected countryside administered by its own independent government-funded body to look after its conservation and promote its benefits.

The minister has previously indicated he wants two to be created, with the Mournes, the Causeway coast, the Antrim Glens and Fermanagh Lakelands identified as possible areas.

There are 15 national parks in Great Britain and six in the Republic of Ireland.

More than 1,000 people attended a public meeting in September in Newcastle, County Down, where farmers and local residents voiced their opposition to the Mournes being designated a national park.

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Northern Ireland National Park Panel Created

Environment Minister Alex Attwood has established a panel of experts to review plans to give Northern Ireland areas popular with tourists national park status. Areas being considered include the Mourne mountains, the Fermanagh lakes and the Causeway coast. The issue has been hotly debated for a decade with the plan winning favour with environmentalists but proving unpopular with local landowners and developers who would suffer restrictions on land use.

A public consultation period on how a park would be managed has been extended by a month until the 31st October. The consultation document will look at how a Special National Park might be managed in a way that reconciles both local and national interests, giving proper weighting to social, economic and environmental needs.

The Minister has said
“A model of Special National Parks – that is fit for purpose for circumstances here – is my aim,

This model will be different from that in England and different again from the model in Scotland.

But the argument that Northern Ireland should have Special National Parks, with even better management of park areas, with the potential of positive development, new jobs and critically, respect for the local people and community – is one I believe in and will argue for.”

Ten years ago a proposal to give the Mourne Mountain area national park status appeared to have been agreed, however, vocal opposition from locals effectively ended the idea and although the proposal has remained on the table ever since, there has been no sign of any sort of solution.

The Press Association

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Flying the Mournes

This is an awesome video of Geoff Camps flying over the Mourne Mountains on a paramotor.

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Walker airlifted from Mournes

A walker in his 60s has been airlifted from the Mourne Mountains. The man who has a medical condition was rescued yesterday afternoon and taken to Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry around 4.15pm where his condition is said to be stable.

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