Ireland?s expats find roots on the web

The Sunday Times - Ireland?

The Sunday Times October 02, 2005

Tourism loses out as Ireland?s expats find roots on the web

IT WAS once a mainstay of Ireland?s tourism industry. But the number of overseas visitors coming to Ireland in search of their roots is in serious decline and has halved in the past five years alone.
Most visitors now have no blood link to the auld sod, according to research by Failte Ireland. Those with an Irish connection are increasingly finding their great-grandparents through the internet rather than travelling to Kerry or Galway in search of old gravestones or parish records.?
In 1999, there were 107,000 genealogically motivated visitors to Ireland, but that was down to 40,000 last year. The percentage of holidaymakers from New England, the traditional American tourism market, was down from 17% in 1999 to 12% last year, while the proportion from the mid-Atlantic region was down from 27% to 18%.
Tourism chiefs say that post 9/11, a different sort of American and British tourist is coming, one with no Irish roots. ?In 1999, only one-third of American visitors to Ireland had no ethnic link but last year that was almost half,? said a tourism official. ?Six years ago, 54% of British visitors had no ethnic link and now that?s 67%.?
Genealogy tourists no longer need to come to Ireland, or visit its 35 genealogy centres, in order to find their roots. The Mormon church in Salt Lake City has posted an enormous searchable database of births and deaths on the net, while Ellis Island immigration records have also been computerised.
The Irish centres now get on average 500 visitors each a year, with only 250 callers, or five per week, to the centre in Fingal. They were established after a task force in the 1980s decided that there was good potential in ?genealogy tourism?, luring more of the 70m people worldwide claiming Irish ancestry to the country. Most of the centres are not sustainable, and will close if Fas, the training and employment body, withdraws its funding.

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