Letterkenny woman Máire Ní Threasaigh has earned a coveted Blue Badge to join an elite group of Northern Ireland’s professional tour guides.

Máire was one of just thirty-three people from across the North of Ireland who earned the right to wear the insignia, graduating at a formal ceremony in Belfast’s historic Harbour Office on Tuesday 27th June.

The Blue Badge is awarded on the successful completion of intensive training a followed by a series of comprehensive written and practical exams. It is seen as the ultimate accolade for professional tourist guides.

Máire approached Blue Badge training with enthusiasm, with a view to working as an accredited Tour Guide specialising in the North West of the island of Ireland. In qualifying, she joins an elite band of acknowledged experts.

Having travelled the length and breadth of Northern Ireland as she developed her knowledge, she says her favourite location in Northern Ireland is the Sperrin Mountains, with their rich history, evidence of ancient habitation, stone circles and standing stones, giving the open-minded visitor a real sense of connection with the past and its mysteries.

And, after all that research, Máire’s favourite facts about her specialist subject are:
· St Columba was of royal lineage
· An Grianan Aileach was sacked by the King of Leinster
· Inishowen once formed part of Tyrone
· Donemana means the Fort of the Monastery in Irish
· Bad luck will follow anyone who cuts down a Fairy Tree (Hawthorn)

As a Blue Badge holder, Máire has been trained to guide visitors confidently, eloquently and in entertaining fashion, around the region’s tourist attractions and landmarks; from Derry’s Walls to Titanic Quarter; from Fermanagh’s Lakes to the Causeway Coast.

The new Blue Badge Guides are already in high demand this season and all feel privileged to see their own country through the eyes of visitors from all around the world … which sometimes elicits surprising reactions. Máire’s favourite inquiry to date was from a visitor who asked where she could go to meet a leprechaun.

Northern Ireland’s first Blue Badge guides qualified in 1992, graduating from a demanding course which was delivered by Queen’s University Belfast and accredited by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. The Northern Ireland Tourist Guide Association was established in that same year and has acted ever since as the professional body for Tourist Guides in Northern Ireland.

NITGA Chairperson Cathie McKimm was an original graduate of the class of 1992 and a founding member of the Association.

Welcoming the new Blue Badge Guides into the highest rank of their profession she said, “When we originally qualified the first ceasefires were still two years off and no one, but no one, would ever have believed that we would have a tourism industry such as we have today, or that amongst our visitor assets we would include Titanic Belfast which was acclaimed by World Travel Awards as ‘the Best Tourist Attraction In The World 2016’. That was all the stuff of fairy tales, but sometimes fairy tales come true.”

“This year marks our silver anniversary year and what better way to celebrate twenty-five years than with the graduation of thirty-three new Blue Badge Guides? This was the first time that the NITGA has delivered the course and, according to the Institute of Tourist Guiding which is responsible for course accreditation nationwide, our results were amongst the best in the UK.”

Adding her congratulations to the Class Of 2017, Brin Heaton, Course Director and Secretary of the Northern Ireland Tourist Guide Association, said, “The road to Blue Badge status is far from easy, as our students know all too well.

“Over one intensive year they have visited almost every corner of Northern Ireland to build, then test, their knowledge as they worked towards gaining this internationally recognised qualification for professional tourist guides yet their enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge never faltered.

“These really are exceptional people and we are confident that they will each play an exceptional role in Northern Ireland’s fast-growing tourism industry.”