An Irish Anglers World

Barrow Blueway Must Allow Provision for Coarse Angling Tourism

The late Hugh Gough, a founder member of the National Coarse Fishing Federation of Ireland and former coarse angling development officer with both the Inland Fisheries Trust and latterly the Central Fisheries Board wrote in his definitive book titled, Coarse Fishing in Ireland (Merlin Unwin, 1989), that “without question the River Barrow is one of Ireland’s finest coarse fishing waters, yielding fish of exceptional quality”.

A catch of River Barrow bream from St Mullins, Co. Carlow.

The Barrow Blueway/Greenway, a much vaunted plan to modify and upgrade the River Barrow towpaths with a view to creating a multi functional, linear, connected tourism destination along the entire Barrow Valley is a bold enterprise. Waterways Ireland in partnership with Carlow, Kildare, Kilkenny and Laois County Councils in tandem with their respective leader companies is proposing the development and the project has now reached, for the second time in three years, a public consultation phase where all feedback will be considered before the final plans are drawn up and an application for planning permission submitted.

The proposal, an example of what is termed “Green Infrastructure”, if properly designed, implemented and marketed has the potential to transform the Barrow Valley socio – economically, placing the area firmly on the tourist map as a worthwhile travel destination for both indigenous and overseas visitors. To maximise the return from a project such as this, it is vital that all potential revenue streams are considered and where relevant included within the final design, coarse angling being one such component.

Coarse fishing the River Barrow, South East Ireland.

Angling is not just a healthy past time which gets people out in the air, rod and line fishing is big business, the largest participation sport in the world, even bigger than soccer, worth inclusive of direct and indirect spending three quarters of a billion to the Irish economy (Tourism Development International, 2013). Irish coarse angling as a market segment accounts for 20% of this figure, lagging behind both game and sea angling respectively which command more or less 33% of the Irish market each. However, coarse fishing of all Ireland’s angling disciplines has the potential to become market leader delivering in return a serious dividend, lack of “angler friendly” access, poor international marketing and the “subjective” fears of people who do not understand how the angling market works being the only impediments to its future success.

To illustrate, coarse anglers bring an abundance of tackle, bait and ground bait to the waters edge, weighing cumulatively in the region of 50 – 100 kilograms, much more than can be carried in one go. Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s coarse anglers from in particular the United Kingdom travelled in their droves to fish in Ireland, today their number has fallen to just a trickle, lack of “enabling” access to the best fishing locations a key factor in this about turn.

Destination angling of wild places is a growing market worldwide, by developing and marketing itself as an International “wild” coarse angling destination of excellence Ireland has a golden opportunity to differentiate itself from the competition. Currently as a nation we are falling short of the mark, 41% of overseas tourist anglers having traveled to fish in a country other than Ireland within the last three years (TDI, 2013).

A Socio - Economic Study of Recreational Angling in Ireland (TDI, 2013).

In October 2012, Fergus O’Dowd, then Junior Minister for Fisheries officially opened a “radical in concept” coarse angling facility constructed on three shorelines round Lough Muckno, Castleblaney, Co. Monaghan. Enabling “in this instance” managed vehicular access for coarse anglers to 220 fishing stations, a venue was developed built to International standard capable of hosting major championships.

Transformational in design and run by the community as was envisaged, Lough Muckno is without doubt the single most successful piece of angling infrastructure constructed in this country delivering a return on investment (ROI) in its first year based on angler spend matrices of  4.8:1, far exceeding the 1.3:1 posted by the much publicised Mayo Greenway/Cycleway.

The above information is not presented to spur competition between the two initiatives; instead it is proffered to show clearly that the real needs of tourist coarse anglers have to be considered within any future development plan for the River Barrow towpaths. Ireland possesses many key natural resources, our inland waterways being one such, it is imperative that when we plan to harness our rivers, lakes and canals to the best advantage of the people and the state it is done correctly.

Empty shop in Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny.

All ego and personal motivations have to be removed from the equation to be replaced by objective reasoning and qualified experience. A walk around Barrow side towns such as Graiguenamanagh reveals dereliction exemplified by empty shops and pubs either for sale or not trading. The aforementioned reality does not need to be as, before one even considers continental Europe, there is a market of receptive coarse anglers living not 50 miles away within the United Kingdom, Ireland’s largest holiday visitor market at 45% (Failte Ireland), who travel to fish worth a conservative minimum of €15 million in direct spending.

Creating bespoke community managed access for travelling coarse anglers over 7 kilometres of the 100 kilometres of Barrow towpaths in three strategic locations between Athy and St Mullins in tandem with a focused marketing campaign will reinvigorate towns and villages along the Barrow Valley, Graiguenamanagh being one of them. It is up to all concerned to view this “tourism” coarse angling proposal  for what it is, an innovative approach towards rural regeneration within south east Ireland.

Ashley Hayden MSc BA, © 21/11/2014

From 2009 into 2010 Ashley Hayden alongside Dick Caplice (then manager of the Irish National Coarse Fishing Team) co – authored, designed, initiated and drove the Lough Muckno Project which created a venue comprising 220 fishing stations with vehicular access aimed at attracting tourist coarse anglers to the shores of Lough Muckno, Castleblaney, Co. Monaghan. Since being opened in October 2012 the facility has held the European Police Forces Coarse Angling Championships worth €400,000 to the local community and has enabled an increase in annual angler related bed nights from 600 pre-development to 12,000 post development generating tourism revenues in the region of €2.4 million per annum.

For more information click on: Barrow Boys.