Following 25 years work and an investment of over €2million, local and national agencies met with representatives of the Great Southern Trail at a strategic workshop convened by West Limerick Resources to examine how the potential of the local amenity may be further developed for the economic benefit of the West Limerick area.

The workshop, which took place in Newcastle West recently, was the first time in the trails history that representatives from all relevant local and national agencies, including the National Trails Office, Limerick County Council, Shannon Development and Fáilte Ireland along with the local development company West Limerick Resources, met to look beyond the development of the physical infrastructure towards how the trail can be developed and promoted as a tourism product which can bring economic benefit to the West Limerick area. Also represented at the workshop was West Limerick Tourism which was established, with the support of West Limerick Resources, in 2010 to foster a spirit of support and co-operation among the tourism and hospitality trade in the region.

“To date the development of the trail has been driven by Great Southern Trail Ltd, a voluntary organisation that has demonstrated enormous commitment to the project,” explains West Limerick Resources manager Shay Riordan. “As a result West Limerick now has a well-developed trail from just west of Adare to Abbeyfeale at the Kerry border. Ultimately the goal is to develop the complete trail from Limerick city to Fenit in County Kerry but with the first phase complete, it is essential to also turn our attention towards the marketing of this unique resource.”

The workshop was divided into two sessions. Session one comprised of two presentations. The first presentation was delivered by Great Southern Trail Chairperson, Liam O’Mahony, who gave an overview of the development of the GST from a defunct railway into a walking-cycling ‘rail-to-trail’ greenway, providing a much needed recreational infrastructure for locals and visitors alike. He highlighted the challenges faced over the last 25 years and discussed how these were overcome through negotiations with CIE Properties, landowners and farmers along the route as well as the support received from West Limerick Resources and Limerick County Council.

Following on, Suzanne O’Brien of Mulranny Tourism/Mayo Greenway spoke about the Mayo Greenway trail, the development of which was driven by Mayo County Council. According to Fáilte Ireland Research (2011) the route is generating €7.2 million annually within the local economy. “The Greenway has captured the public and tourist imagination and has achieved this success through a strong partnership model, with private enterprise and public partners at the core,” explains Mr. Riordan. “Mayo Greenway is now focused on building additional alliances with craft and food producers, to add novel products and attractions along off-route diversions for users. If the Great Southern Trail is to reach its full potential, we now need to begin to take a similar approach.”

Following the presen-tations, the workshop moved to round table discussion which focused on the future strategic development of the Great Southern Trail within Limerick County as well as with neighbouring counties and through national strategies such as Smarter Travel and the Wild Atlantic Way. It was widely recognised that the private sector must come on board to exploit the economic benefit of the trail and that the marketing of the trail must focus on the ‘total experience’ with the community still having a key role to play.

The County and City Manager, Mr. Conn Murray, voiced the commitment of Limerick City and County Councils to the project. Key to this he stated was the need to move from being a totally voluntary supported activity, to one which has County Council and other agency support. In addition, Fáilte Ireland voiced its overall support for the project in its current phase and the (proposed) Kerry phase.

Following the discussions, a number of high level strategic actions were agreed upon with a strong commitment from all partners to actively engage in the future roll out and product development of the Great Southern Trail.

West Limerick Resources would like thank all those who attended for their time and contributions and are committed to continuing to support the Great Southern Trail Ltd in the future development of this local resource.