Page last updated at 13:30 GMT, Tuesday, 24 January 2006

Who would stay in a place like this?

"Traffic-choked", "tacky" and "charmless". Just a few of the less than complimentary words used in a new travel guide to describe three of Ireland's best known towns.

The latest edition of the Lonely Planet says Newcastle in County Down is "garish" whilst Larne in County Antrim is "lacking in charm".

It adds that Bundoran, on the southern shore of Donegal Bay, is "one of Ireland's tackiest holiday resorts".

Mourne country.... but Newcastle is described as "garish"

But the guide, which is renowned for being brusque, gives a favourable mention to the cities of Belfast, Londonderry and Dublin.

Often dubbed the backpackers bible, Lonely Planet says the seaside resort of Newcastle, at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, enjoys a superb setting and is a good base for exploring.

But it adds: "Shame about the main street. On summer weekends it's a garish, traffic-choked strip of raucous amusement arcades and fast-food outlets."

South Down Democratic Unionist Party Assembly member Jim Wells said he agreed with the sentiments but pointed out the guide must have been written before recent improvements.

"Sometimes the Lonely Planet guide goes over the top, but not on this occasion," he said.

"The council is aware of the problems and is spending a king's ransom in addressing the issue.

The guide says Bundoran is "tacky"

"It is spending millions, 6m I think, in upgrading the promenade along the sea front.

"Half is done and the other half, when complete, will transform the area and be the catalyst for much needed regeneration across the centre."

Travel along the Antrim coast, and you come to a what the guide describes as "poor old Larne".

It says there is "no reason to linger" in the town, a sentiment refuted by the town's mayor John Matthews.

"Larne is a vibrant working city, it's not some twee part of industrial archaeology. It's individual, it's got character," he said.

Mr Matthews adds that the town boasts "one of the best leisure centres in Northern Ireland" as well as superb sporting facilities and a theatre.

DUP East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson agrees that at first sight, Larne does appear unattractive, but he urges people to go beyond the "raised motorway and high towers" on the approach to the town.

"If you do look beyond that, there's very quaint Victorian parts of Larne. It is the entrance to the Antrim coast as well," he said.

Across the border in the Republic of Ireland, is Bundoran, described by the Lonely Planet as "a kitsch assortment of half-baked fairground rides, flashing arcades, fast food diners and overpriced B&Bs".

It says the seaside resort is "nonetheless riding a new wave of popularity as one of Europe's premier surfing spots".

The comments have outraged local hotelier and Fianna Fail councillor Sean McEniff who says: "Bundoran is not tacky and I think the fairground is absolutely magnificent.

Ireland has long since outgrown its 40 shades of green and all of the other shamrock-laden cliches that never really did it justice
Fionn Davenport
Guide author

"It is not some small resort, it is like a mini Blackpool and tourism is booming. I am adding an extra 40 bedrooms to my hotel because of the demand and all the other hotels are the same."

He insists accommodation is of a high standard and the town so clean "you could eat your breakfast on the streets of Bundoran".

Despite the criticisms, the guide's co-ordinating author Dublin-born Fionn Davenport has words of praise for the often maligned city of Belfast.

He says massive investment combined with optimism engendered by the peace process have transformed it into a "boom town".

"Its old bombs and bullets reputation has given way to a designer Belfast," he says, typified by "hip hotels" and elegant restaurants.

Mr Davenport says Ireland is a "compelling contradiction" of the traditional and the modern and points out that the book is guide to where people would want to visit.

"That's the thing we're trying to convey," he said.

"If you want a glowing positive... view of Ireland, pick up any tourist brochure and that's what you'll get. You'll never get a critique, never."


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