Concern over impact of new tourism strategy in Downpatrick

The contribution that the story of St Patrick makes to the Downpatrick area could be reduced if a new tourism strategy is passed by the local council, according to an MP for the area.

The Co Down town is known across the world as the home of the patron saint of Ireland.

Thousands come to the town to retrace his steps and visit his final resting place.

But South Down MP Margaret Ritchie fears that brand St Patrick could be under threat if a radical new tourism strategy gets the go ahead by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.

“Within that strategy, the whole area of St Patrick has been diluted, by that I mean promotion, marketing and development of the Patrician product which is synonymous with Lecale, Downpatrick and Saul. It is an international brand,” she said.

The town has its own centre dedicated to St Patrick that sees more than 100,000 people coming through its doors every year to find out more about him.

Caroline Morrison and her husband own a chip shop in the town and say any potential drop in tourism footfall could have a knock-on effect on their business.

“If the brand of St Patrick wasn’t as well advertised it obviously would affect my business,” she said.

“If there were not as many tourists, then they are not coming and spending their money in Downpatrick. I have a shop in Newcastle, I can see with the Mournes that tourism is massive for everybody’s businesses in these local towns.”

In a statement a Newry, Mourne and Down District Council said the tourism strategy has been developed following extensive consultation.

The strategy will build on the successful work to date around developing the product and telling the story of St Patrick.

Ms Ritchie insists that investing money in heritage tourism will see a valuable return to the area.

“There are coach loads of people coming to this centre and visit these assets whether it’s [St Patrick's] grave, Down Cathedral, St Patrick’s first church at Saul, that means so much to our local economy,” she added.

The new strategy is only at consultation stage so there is still time for the public to make their voices heard.