IAT Ireland Meets in Ecclesiastical Capital
The second meeting of IAT Ireland, the working group examining the feasibility of establishing a segment of IAT on the island of Ireland, took place in Armagh city on 10 September 2009. Armagh is regarded as the ecclesiastical capital of the island of Ireland in respect of the two main Christian churches, the Church of Ireland and Catholicism.
The Catholic Cathedral at Armagh
The meeting was held at the invitation of the North-South Ministerial Council, the body established by the Governments of Ireland and Northern Ireland in order to promote cooperation on the island of Ireland.
The enthusiasm with which IAT Ireland is being considered is reflected in the diversity of affiliated bodies. These include organisations devoted to regional development, tourism, geological services, forestry, sports and leisure. The profile of the Appalachian Trail itself has been enhanced by extensive features in recent travel sections of two popular newspapers here.
The meeting had before it a discussion document on the IAT Ireland concept, generated by Jackie Gorman with the assistance of Martin Bradley, Cormac MacDonnell and Frank McGrogan. The document stimulated a lively discussion which led to a very clear outcome: the initial focus of the working group would be on extracting maximum value from the Cross-Border dimension of the initiative. Accordingly a sub-group has been tasked to scope a uniquely Irish product based on a long-distance Cross-Border linear trail. This would use existing trails as far a possible and consist of a series of discontinuous segments which would be off-road wherever feasible.
The experience of walkers along any IAT Ireland trail is likely to be quite distinctive. Indeed the Working Group has become concerned that a simple re-branding of existing Irish trails could seriously mislead potential North American visitors. This has led us, without in any way dampening our enthusiasm for the Appalachian brand, to concentrate on identifying one or more preferred trail routes which will have a distinctive blend of iconic locations, themes, facilities and community interaction. Would this become "The Irish Way" or "The Way of the Irish"? Watch this space!
This approach is leading to some serious consideration of what routes might be adopted. One possible route, influenced by the success of the Spanish Camino de Santiago de Compostela, would seek to link up a series of pilgrimage destinations. Another, recognising the popularity of the Western Way in Ireland and the Ulster Way in Northern Ireland, would seek to join them together - perhaps via the Cross-Border Marble Arch Caves Geopark. The working group is keen to maintain contact with how other European IAT proposals are evolving, for example in Scotland and Wales, and to understand how they are handling issues which have arisen at our own meetings.
We are still at an early stage in concept development but the level of commitment from participants is such as to suggest we will have an important and unique outcome. That is not to suggest that the process will be simple: serious issues relating to funding, leadership and marketing still must be tackled and no doubt will be challenging. But the participants in IAT Ireland are working creatively to solve these and we look forward to keeping our international partners informed on the progress that will inevitably be made.