You’ll do well to find a more passionate Laois man than Roghan Headen.
Though he’s particularly proud of his native Timahoe, through his work a part-time tour guide (which he manages to do alongside his full-time role in An Garda Síochána) he says there is “as much in Laois as anywhere in the country”.
He was speaking on the recent LaoisToday Midweek Podcast following the announcement of a Government grant of €100,000 to the Timahoe Round Tower and Visitor Centre.
The Round Tower dates back to St Mochua and the 6th century and Headen says it’s historical significance makes it a perfect tourist attraction to overseas visitors and an ideal alternative to Glendalough.
He’s part of the group that maintain, manage and promote the attraction with the funding useful in carrying out remedial works and upgrading the audio/visual presentation.
“As a group want to showcase that and promote it as best we can,” he told presenter Paul Downey.
“We managed to get onto the Ireland’s Ancient Tours, an initiative there recently and that has been fantastic for us.
There is a number of sites in the county ourselves and the Rock of Dunamase, Heywood, Emo and Donaghmore … it’s a great initiative, it’s great tours and trail.
“And as a part time tour guide, I can tell you that there is as much in Laois as anywhere else in the country.
“The only difference is, in Laois we probably don’t really need, we don’t really depend on tourism as an income, because the land is very good, from an agricultural point of view, the land is fantastic and agriculture is thriving.
“And plus we have some semi-state and state bodies such as the prison which is a big employer in town and other places like that, Glanbia and stuff. So we don’t really depend on tourism – that’s probably why it has been neglected.
“But as amenities and as things to go and see and do and experience, we are right up there.
“And I can tell you, if that Round Tower that we have in Timahoe was below in Kerry or over in Galway or somewhere … there’d be buses thronging to it.”
He says the Timahoe experience is two-fold, in both attracting local families to enjoy the amenities and to tourists from America, England and Asia.
“The broader picture then is your inward bound tours, the boys and girls from America and the UK and from Asia which is a growing market, and those people land in Dublin on aeroplanes and they have itineraries designed by tour operators here in Ireland,” he added.
“And there is a big massive emphasis on Glendalough and Glendalough is a fine, it’s a fine site, it’s a beautiful site.
“But Timahoe is as equally as nice in my opinion and probably has a little bit more advantages in so far as it’s motorway drive, one hour exactly from Dublin will get you to Timahoe. We have more room in it for parking. We have access to more toilets if needed. And the visitor would have less pressure, less people.
“I have often targeted tour operators to come down to Timahoe, to broaden your wings, even if they could organise a day tour from Dublin in a bus and you hit the Rock of Dunamase and you hit Timahoe and perhaps even Donnaghmore, Abbeyleix and return and stop off in Emo then on the way home in the afternoon.
“That’s a lovely day out in the Irish countryside from Dublin. You are not stuck in a bus for the whole duration of your trip.
“We would increase our visitor numbers and would take some of the pressure off Glendalough which is an OPW ran site. And we have worked with the OPW over the last number of years, it’s trying to if you want to become or to describe it this way, to become their little brother, to become a kind of relief that during the peak season.”
While Headen expects it will be a couple of years before tourist numbers can get back to pre-Covid levels, he says the time between now and then can be used to promote what Laois has to offer.
“And over that period of time we want to promote Timahoe and not just Timahoe, but Laois as a nice little place to come and visit,” he said.
“So hopefully and over the next few years we will get to that point and we’ll be able to offer assistance to the likes of Glendalough.
“We’ll never be able to challenge them because of the years they have put in working at trade shows and promo with Failte Ireland and it is the iconic picture of Ireland when you are overseas looking at advertisements on your television or if you are going into your travel agency in the States or whatever.
“The first thing you’ll see is the Cliffs of Moher, Glendalough and perhaps even the Giants Causeway.
“You won’t see Timahoe or the Rock of Dunamase there, but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be there, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t filter in as an ancillary to those places.”
SEE ALSO – John Whelan: Timahoe – a towering example of the delights on our doorstep