Ulster Unionist Councillor William McCandless has outlined his vision to attract tourists to the Coleraine area.
Cllr McCandless said : “Probably the two best loved and most visited attractions on the North Coast are The Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick – a – Rede rope bridge with around 1 million tourists visiting these sites annually. Approximately another 500,000 tourists however bypass Coleraine en route from Belfast to Londonderry every year.
“Just imagine what it would mean to Coleraine if we were to get even 25% of that number, 375K tourists visiting the town, then build on that, but what magnet do we have to draw them in?
“On our doorstep we have Mountsandel, the most significant prehistoric site in Ireland, a settlement of the Mesolithic (middle Stone Age) period, dating back 8000 years.
“When the site was excavated in the 1970’s traces of seven circular huts were discovered and dated providing evidential proof that it was the first known settlement in Ireland.
“To try and put this into a historical time line context it is over 7000 years before the Hanging gardens of Babylon and over 5000 years before the pyramids were built.
“I often wonder if we appreciate the wonderful heritage we have on our doorstep.
“I have frequently walked from Christie Park to the lock gates at the Cutts and look over at the East side where the path along the forest takes us so close to the river.
“The rugged beauty of the Cutts in between where cuts were made in the natural basalt to facilitate logs to be floated down the river.
“Imagine if these banks were joined at this spot.
“I would like to see Council involved in a project joining the West Bank to the East bank with a bridge at the Cutts and then creating a walkway along the East bank back into our historic town, and I realise I am not the first person to have this vision but I intend to lobby for it.
“I would also like to see an interpretive centre which tells the Mountsandel story for our domestic and international visitors. Sadly the planning policy in the 60’s and 70’s had permitted the growth of the towns residential development to encroach upon the Mountsandel site so it might be best to consider any riverside centre to be sited on the West Bank with the bridge across the river leading to replicas of Mesolithic hut structures at the Mountsandel site.
“The town of Coleraine is rich in history and we need to see it well established on a history trail to attract tourists.
“We have a much older history to be savoured and appreciated, starting with the entrance at the Bann the gateway to the North East where so many of our ancient travellers and invaders entered Ireland, the mound at Ballycairn part of the beacon warning system which included Mountsandel and the Camus area.
“The native Irish, St. Patrick who gave us our name, the Vikings, the Normans, the Planters, the Hon. Irish Society – all those who made us what we are today, we need to tell this story of our origins and How we grew from a plantation town.
“Our Town Hall could be used as a museum / art gallery to tell the story of Coleraine from being the cradle of civilisation on the island to the present day. A museum with a difference, telling how we acted as the gateway for these historic visitors to our island.
School children in the R. Of I. have Mountsandel on their curriculum, we sadly have neglected this for years.
“I have mentioned before in the press that it is time to put Coleraine back on the map and instil civic pride in our area and make it a must see stop for those who visit the island. The tourism experience in Ireland is much more than staying in Belfast with a day trip to the Causeway and then down to Dublin, but we will never attract them until we start to believe in it ourselves and sell the area.
“We need to attract a diverse audience. We want visitors to come and feel welcome when they arrive, hold their interest and engage them during their stay and leave them feeling that they will be eager to return.