Sports stars can boost tourism
There is something about the Northern Ireland character that makes us reluctant to sing our own praises sufficiently. That is especially true when it comes to selling the province to tourists. Perhaps we still have not erased our recent dark past from our consciousness and fail to see the giants steps forward that we have taken since those days.
Certainly, the visitors we spoke to yesterday when Belfast was putting on its sunniest face were much more enthusiastic about the city and the sights beyond its boundaries than any local would be.
To a stranger's eyes Northern Ireland is a place brimful of sights and attractions. We have unique selling points like our association with the Titanic, gloriously relived in the exhibitions at Titanic Belfast and the grandly restored Nomadic vessel that took passengers out to the doomed liner at the start of its fateful maiden voyage. Even nature has been kind to us with the world famous Giant's Causeway, never mind the wonderful scenery of the Glens of Antrim, the Mournes and the Fermanagh lakeland to name but three popular destinations.
Visitors, their eyes untainted by the past, see a modern city with fashionable shops, a multitude of fine restaurants and welcoming bars. Indeed, even the past has been marketed through the tours of contrasting murals.
The Colin Davidson exhibition at the Ulster Museum featuring portraits of 18 people affected by the Troubles paints another picture of those dreadful days.
But thankfully we are now in a new Northern Ireland, one which has twice hosted the Irish Open golf championship and soon the holy grail of the sport, The Open, and has also been chosen as the start point for the second most important cycling race in the world, the Giro d'Italia.
But we could make even more of our sporting heroes. Where can visitors readily see anything relating to such stars as George Best, Joey Dunlop, Alex Higgins, Carl Frampton, Barry McGuigan, or Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke?
We regularly produce sporting icons and, as we have urged before, but which we repeat unapologetically, we should have a sports museum as a focal point for our champions. These are people who are or were revered around the world, yet we have no proper memorial to their prowess. We have much to celebrate, but let us do it properly.