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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 20 August, 2014

Ireland’s first tourism boom was… in 1907

“Determined efforts to win for the Emerald Isle some share of the sightseers’ coin have met with decided success.”

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via The US Library of Congress/Flickr/Creative Commons

THE DEPARTMENT OF Transport, Tourism and Sport and tourism bodies have been celebrating the biggest rise in visitor figures in over five years.

Trips from North America rose by 13.6 per cent and from Great Britain by 9 per cent for summer 2013. Events and marketing around The Gathering campaign were thought to have contributed, as did our good weather this year.

As we previously discussed on TheJournal.ie, a similar ‘Gathering’ was held in Ireland 60 years ago and that had a similar effect on incoming numbers.

But what should we make of the above front-page news of the New York Tribune in September 1907, which loudly proclaimed that:

More Tourists Have Visited Ireland This Year Than In Any Former Season.

This was before Ireland had a dedicated tourism board, for instance, or even before national sovereignty was restored.

Even the Tribune’s front page – along with its images of folk culture and heritage – points to the situation for many Irish at that time. The bottom left quarter of the page features a large picture of “wretchedly poor” people on Terry Island, off the Donegal coast. They are so poor, reports the Tribune, that “they have been absolved from paying all rents and taxes”.

The picture diagonal to that showed an “Irish slide cart” which was used in rural areas by those who couldn’t afford wheels for their cart, wrote the Tribune’s reporter.

So what happened in Ireland in 1907 that a tourism boom could coexist with scenes of such grating poverty?

For one, the country’s profile was boosted by the Irish International Exhibition which ran from May to November that year in Dublin – over 2.5 million people visited that, including many from abroad.

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An image recently discovered by the Church of Ireland’s RCB Library, showing the exhibition halls specially built for the Irish International extravaganza.

That exhibition was held in Herbert Park (there was a large palace built to house it which was later demolished but you can still see today the bandstand and pond built as part of the site).

The capital also received a state visit from Edward VII of the UK and his wife Alexandra who came to open the fair. The couple had met a hostile reception in Cork in 1885 but the visit in 1907 was by all accounts a more successful affair – although the Irish crown jewels were also stolen from Dublin Castle that year.

And yet, for those who were not visitors but, like the poor people of Terry Island, lived here year-round? Ireland of 1907 saw riots after the opening of the Playboy of the Western World at the Abbey, Sunday afternoon pub opening hours came into licence in five cities, dockers and carters striked in Belfast and the Marconi wireless telegraphy service opened between Galway and Canada.

It also see the composition of A Soldier’s Song (later to become Amhrán na bhFiann) and was nine years away from the first shots of the Easter Rising.

Ireland named Best Tourism Destination by US magazine readers>
You know we had a ‘Gathering’ 60 years ago, right?>
Helter Skelter, Crystal Maze and Chivers jam: the 1907 Irish International Exhibition>

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