St Patrick’s Day

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:15 pm on 17th March 2020.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 9:15 pm, 17th March 2020

I am happy to support the use of music. I love music; I love all sorts of music. I love Elvis Presley, who was an Ulster Scot, as we all know. He brought hillbilly music to the society that we have today. I love music on 12 July, which is one of our special days, and we hope to have the special day this year if we have the opportunity. There is lots of music, including ecclesiastical music. There are the hymns that we all love, and those things all come from St Patrick, and we are pleased to have them.

Belfast City Council said that 23,500 people attended the 2017 St. Patrick’s day event: 60% from Greater Belfast, 20% from the rest of Northern Ireland and a further 20% from outside Northern Ireland. The economic impact was worth £758,000, independent research showed. The fact that the St Patrick’s Centre in neighbouring Down Council can attract 130,000 visitors every year tells us that the appetite is there. The question we must ask ourselves is how we can exploit that. I am aware of tremendous council initiatives such as the St Patrick’s trail. The Discover NI website says:

“Follow the Saint Patrick’s Trail through a host of Christian sites at Bangor, the Ards Peninsula”— in my constituency

Downpatrick, Newry and Armagh to uncover just how strong Northern Ireland’s links are with this patron saint. The 92 mile linear driving route links 15 key sites, all identified as having some connection to his life, legacy or landscape”.

I believe that we need greater funding—I know that the Minister will respond to that, as we had a chat before the debate—and emphasis on that to attract overnight visitors and not just day-trippers. For example, if people followed the Christian heritage trail down the Ards peninsula in my constituency, where I live, they would find the abbey at Greyabbey, which is open thanks to the generosity of the Mongomerys of Rosemount estate—I take this opportunity to thank them in Hansard. To get to that historic Abbey, they would have to drive through Newtownards, with our unique Scrabo tower, open at certain times; the old priory dating to 1244; and one of the UK’s oldest market crosses, which has been renovated and refurbished to bring back some of its glory. With many a coffee shop along the way and Northern Ireland’s winning high street of the year—it is always good to mention that fact—they could shop in boutiques and enjoy at least half a day in the historically and culturally rich Newtownards. They could take in some of the most beautiful scenery in the world as they made their way to the abbey at Greyabbey.

Those people would drive past world-renowned Mount Stewart estate and gardens—officially one of the top 10 gardens of the world, which is in my constituency of Strangford. That is only half a day of the itinerary. They would travel slightly inland to see Ballycopeland mill—the only remaining working windmill in East Down, which allows people to grind their own flour—then nip across to the folk and transport museum, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson, where they can learn to bake bread with the flour they milled at Ballycopeland. There goes another half day at least, and the need for an overnight stay in a hotel or Airbnb accommodation along the beautiful Strangford lough. That is before they have even made it to the Abbey.