Insider View - Cultural Tourism

Hilton Park - County Monaghan IrelandRemember the couple who were spotted ‘fornicating’ on a beach in Dubai? They got off lightly, I reckon. Three months in the slammer seems lenient; in other places, it could have been death by stoning or decapitation, or worse. It only goes to show how horribly we Westerners behave as soon as the seat-belt sign is switched off at foreign airports. Then the hordes of overweight, tattooed, inappropriately dressed individuals spill out onto foreign soil. It’s all so embarrassing.

It’s dangerous, too. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that, by behaving badly, being indifferent to the sensibilities of the host nations, we encourage in them feelings of antagonism and radicalism.

We expose our hideous bodies on beaches in countries where women are modest and cover heads and arms. We grumble in loud voices and ask for chips and get drunk and, all in all, what a spectacle we make of ourselves when abroad. And I can say this because I have English blood: the English are the worst offenders.

By contrast, it seems to me that visitors to this country are, on the whole, a most pleasant lot. This may be because so many of them are coming here to discover their roots and have a certain respect for the place before arrival. Temple Bar and environs apart, visitors are not arriving in this country to rampage or flaunt their flesh or drink until they drop. Who could afford that here?

Our own experience is that the independent traveller in Ireland is largely attracted by the history and culture, as well as our perceived friendliness. As such, these persons are likely to be less of a hedonistic bent. They are curious. They don’t move in battalions. Apart from the occasional American who travels the world in search of a power shower, people arriving here are unfailingly polite and seek to appreciate what they find.

I can’t imagine, and don’t want to, the disdain that, say, the Spanish, or the Egyptians, or the Moroccans must feel at the unruly hordes of Northern Europeans moving through their territories. There’s something to be said for having a bad climate and no cheap booze.

Last year, I spent a week in Croatia. There are many similarities between our two countries – small populations, long coastlines, beautiful landscapes and the shared experience of a recent and bloody civil war.

Tourism is important to both economies, and clearly our two countries have received bountiful aid to rebuild shattered infrastructures. If you were assessing the merits and demerits of a country as a tourist destination, Croatia would score well.

It struck us as the cleanest country we had ever visited. The smallest hostelry had starched tablecloths and sparkling cutlery. There was fresh seafood in abundance, cooked without fuss and served with vegetables often growing in view of the dining room. There wasn’t a foam, an amuse-bouche or a swirly garnish in sight.

The sun shone and everywhere we were left with the impression of a country proud of its achievements. The reconstruction of Croatia, to this beady eye, seems to have been crafted very cleverly with rampant development kept under control. “What a lovely country,” we kept saying. Our doubts about our native visitor attractions were reinforced. Why would anyone want to come to Ireland?

“How many famous Croatians can you name?” my companion asked. A long silence. No person came to mind. Then we started to remember the long list of Irish men and women whose names would be known around the world and the contribution, especially to literature, that this tiny little island has made to the arts.

Minister Martin Cullen recently identified in Hospitality Ireland magazine the importance of cultural tourism. We have it here in spades. Our literary heritage alone should provide enough material to attract people to all parts of this country, and those likely to be attracted exclude, thankfully, the marauding hordes and public fornicators. Boring old sunshine all summer – who needs it?

Together with her husband Johnny, Lucy Madden runs their magnificent 18th century mansion, Hilton Park, Clones, Co Monaghan as a country house which is open to private guests, groups, small weddings and conferences. The restored formal gardens are also open by arrangement. Lucy is a keen organic gardener and also a member of the Irish Food Writers Guild.

Kindly supplied by the respected food service and drinks industry magazine, Hospitality Ireland. Click here to read more about them Hospitality Ireland Magazine.

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