'Nothing but bogs and rubberneckers': How the midlands' tourism brand was born

The ‘Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands’ marketing initiative was unveiled earlier this year.

By Conor McMahon Deputy editor, Fora

STATE OFFICIALS WERE advised to avoid using the word “midlands” in the region’s new tourism brand because it drummed up “negative connotations” with some tourists.

That’s according to research released by Fáilte Ireland following a freedom of information request. It details how the agency christened the new marketing ploy to promote an area including some of Ireland’s least visited counties.

The long-awaited ‘Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands’ brand was unveiled in April of this year to cover an area that includes Leitrim, east Clare, Longford, Roscommon, east Galway and parts of Westmeath, Cavan, north Tipperary and Offaly.

The quest to find the midlands’ brand name formed part of a €25,380 consumer research contract awarded to Welsh outfit Strategic Research and Insight.

A report prepared by the Cardiff-based firm on behalf of the tourism development agency showed how more than 1,200 people from several target markets reacted to a shortlist of potential names for the new brand.

Respondents were initially asked for their opinion on five shortlisted names: Ireland’s Heartlands, the Shannon Lakelands, Ireland’s Majestic Midlands, Ireland’s Midland Trails and the Great Shannon Plains.

Mooted monikers Ireland’s Heartlands and the Shannon Lakelands proved to be the strongest contenders during the first phase of the research project.

heartlands research
Source: Fáilte Ireland/FOI

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One British respondent said the name Ireland’s Heartlands “infers natural, rustic areas with fresh air and unspoilt countryside”.

“I get the impression that I would be visiting the ‘real’ Ireland,” said another.

Although it ranked highly among Irish respondents, the proposed Ireland’s Heartlands name didn’t sit well with everyone.

The researchers said some locals thought the name was “geographically vague”, while others seemed to “know ‘too much’ about the midlands and don’t consider it an appealing destination” in the first place.

One Irish woman said the Heartlands name “sounds alright to foreign ears but to me it implies nothing but bogs and rubberneckers!”

“Heartlands gives me the impression that I will be staying in a cottage or guesthouse with an intruding landlady, walking through bogs whilst being surrounded by sheep,” another commented.

The Shannon

Irish respondents much preferred the name Shannon Lakelands, with one describing the famous river as “a national treasure”.

However, other nationalities didn’t share the same enthusiasm and displayed what the researchers called a “surprisingly low” awareness of the Shannon, the longest river in Britain and Ireland.

“What is Shannon?” one man said when asked for his take on the name.

“Who knows where this place is?! Who’s Shannon and is it a place with lakes?” another asked.

While the ‘lakelands’ element of the name appealed to Germans, it conjured up mostly negative images for Americans.

“Lakelands sounds like it could possibly be either really pretty or really swampy,” one said, while another simply stated: “I’m kinda scared of deep water.”

The alternate Great Shannon Plains name didn’t fair well either.

“Still don’t know Shannon. WHERE IS Shannon? And her plains?” one US tourist asked, while a British holidaymaker thought it sounded “like a flood-risk area”.


The other suggested names, Ireland’s Majestic Midlands and Ireland’s Midland Trails, were quickly cast aside during the early stages of the process, largely because the word “midlands” was unappealing to British holidaymakers.

Strategic Research and Insight’s researchers noted that many people in the UK immediately thought of England’s midlands, which one person said isn’t known as a holiday hotspot.

One woman said Ireland’s Majestic Midlands “sounds like you’re trying to make it sound better than it is”, while an Irish person believed it came across as “a bit made-up and gimmicky”.

“‘Ireland’s Majestic Midlands’ falls down because ‘majestic’ is off-putting for non-Americans and ‘midlands’ has negative connotations in the British market,” the researchers concluded in their report.

For the second part of the naming research, five new suggestions were thrown into the hat. Each of them were variations of the Ireland’s Heartlands moniker.

Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands – the overall winner – was the only suggestion that ranked first or second across every market. It also translated well into the German and French languages.

Americans preferred the alternate name Ireland’s Emerald Heartlands as it conjured up images of “rolling hills and beautiful scenery”.

But Irish people strongly disliked the name because they associated it with tour buses and “cheap souvenirs”.

“‘Green’ and ‘emerald’ sound too corny and yet would probably attract the American who expects leprechauns to jump out and greet them. Ireland should try and get rid of that image – it puts false expectations up which are never met,” one midlands resident said.

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