Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This St. Patrick’s Day, A Greener Ireland Awaits Leprechauns (and Tourists)

These days, Ireland is becoming known for more than simply verdant hills, green beer and leprechauns. In fact, the country has recently grown quite serious about becoming an eco-friendly destination for tourists. Renowned for its emerald-hued natural beauty which attracts flocks of tourists, Ireland is transforming itself into a country that is quickly becoming as environmentally green as its renowned, lush countryside.

The Irish government is aware that approximately 80% of tourists to Ireland feel that the country’s pristine environment and scenic landscapes are a “ very important ” factor in their choice of Ireland as a holiday destination, making its efforts to offer greener tourism options all the more important.

For those tempted to pursue a green visit to the Emerald Isle, the country’s tourism organizations make it easy.

When most tourists think of Ireland, thoughts turn to quaint inns and hotels. The good news is that there are a growing number of green options in this very fetching category. To encourage hotels to go green, the country offers Green Hospitality Awards. In 2008, 81 out of the island nation’s 960 hotels were honored with one of the new, but already coveted awards.

Many of these are featured on Greenbox, Ireland’s eco-tourism website. The country also participates in the European Union’s green hotel certification program, the EU Flower Eco-Label. Though the initiative is new, Ireland already boasts eighteen accommodations that have earned the label.

For a stay in a classic Georgian manor home, travelers can book a room at the Necarne Manor. With rolling lawns, woods and gardens and an equestrian center, the Gothic Revival estate is as beautiful as it is green. Guests can bike along a nearby trail to a nearby nature reserve and the inn uses organic, fair trade and locally-produced food, even sourcing compost from the on-site stables.

Those yearning for something edgier can try the yurt-inspired Gyreum Eco-Lodge which might best be described as ├╝ber-green in an Al Gore-on-steroids kind of way. Wind turbines power geothermal heating, solar panels provide hot water, traditional toilets connect to a reed bed, and there’s even an outside compost toilet. Rain from the enormous roof is collected and used for showers and toilets.

For a green tour of Ireland’s, well, greenery, book with Ireland Eco Tours which visits well and lesser-known sites, all from the comfort of a vegetable oil-powered bus.

Even Dublin’s charming lanes and streets are turning green. Completely novel and yet to hit the roads in the U.S., Ecocabs offer Dublin residents and tourists a green alternative to traditional taxis. A fleet of modern passenger tricycles operating a free shuttle service daily from April 1st-December 31st, Ecocabs promote fitness while reducing noise, congestion and carbon emissions.

Failte, the Irish tourism agency, is so committed to greening that it has added an environment section to its web site. The section includes an environmental action plan and carbon strategy. The agency is currently working on environmental standards for conference centers and golf courses and has already reviewed environmental practices in the tourism sector. Talk about your transparent government, a copy of the report with recommendations is on its website.

But it’s not just leprechauns and tourist agencies that are green in Ireland—the Irish are pursuing as many green initiatives for their own benefit. May 22-24 is the annual National Greener Ireland fair which includes information on carbon footprint reduction, energy preservation, and organic produce.

On a grander scale, Sustainable Energy Ireland is a one-stop source for information about grants, saving energy, education, and business approaches to adopting a sustainable energy approach.

According to the Irish tourist agency, “The future of Irish tourism is inextricably linked to the quality of the environment. [The] scenic landscapes, coastline, rivers and lakes and cultural heritage are the bedrock upon which Irish tourism has been built.”

The efforts of the Irish to ensure their environment and tourism thrive are more than mere blarney. While the existence of leprechauns might be debated, the efforts of the Irish to go green are as real as the green hills of Ireland itself.
 

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I write about food, travel & dining, as well as related topics. My first novel, The Gods of Venice, can be found on BarnesAndNoble.com & nearly everywhere else. My second novel, The Last American Buffalo, is available on Amazon. Follow me on Twitter or become a fan of The Gods of Venice on Facebook.

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Alan J. Shannon Copyright © 2010