The ‘Dark Side’ of Tourism

In 2015, the small, rocky, South-Western Irish outcrop of Skellig Michael was featured in the now third highest grossing film of all time: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’. The picturesque island and world heritage site is home to a series of 600 steps carved into the islands rock, leading to the somewhat intact remains of a Christian monastery that is over 1,200 years old. The island is also home to many birds such as the puffin.

Rey, The Force Awakens protagonist, returns Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber to him on site at Skellig Michael

Conservation efforts mean that access is limited to 180 tourists a day, and Irish government tourism officers believe that only half manage the journey because it is dangerous to approach in poor weather. Very soon after the film’s premiere, however, tourism businesses began advertising the area internationally. The area has now been flooded with people expecting access to the island, when current restrictions mean they will likely be unable to visit.


Perceptions among tourists are often that visiting the island will lead to more money being available to protect the island. However, whilst this may be true, the money itself is largely used to protect the island from tourists themselves, so this can be somewhat self-defeating if tourists don’t respect the island and its heritage, as well as native bird populations that breed on the island.

It is the responsibility of citizens to hold their governments and the entertainment industry to account. As users of international entertainment, we can hold governments and corporations to ransom by threatening to boycott their products if they do not take steps to protect the sites they operate in. With my knowledge of international politics I could use social media to pressure the United Nations, film companies and the Irish government to take reasonable precautions against environmental damage.


Traditions Don’t Always Last

The Irish diet is misrepresented by foreigners as consisting of more traditional foods when in fact the Irish consume a wide variety of food and drink from all over the world.

Watch below as Irish participants try what Americans claim are ‘Irish dishes’. Whilst ‘corned beef and cabbage’ may be a traditional Irish dish, it isn’t a modern one. One of the participants remarked with disgust that it ‘looks like dog food’. White cabbage head did not get a much better response, and reactions to a pig’s trotter being served varied from repulsion to hilarity.

Although the participants liked Lucky Charms cereal, this was the first time most had tried it, and some thought it humorous that simply having a leprechaun on the box signified to some that the cereal itself was Irish.

Although this may be a mostly harmless example of place essentialism, such a generalisation about the place may lead a tourist to romanticise the difference between their culture and the Irish one. They may contrast this false tradition with a globalisation they dislike and then find themselves disappointed in their travels.

Their misconceptions could also mean they become embarrassed in a social situation where their beliefs are shown to be mistaken. Some Irish people could even be offended by this misrepresentation, thinking that a tourist sees them as outdated. As shown in the video, however, drinking culture is strong in Ireland, and Guinness is a faguinnessvourite. Ireland is the country with the second highest per capita rates of ‘Heavy Episodic’ or ‘binge’ drinking at 39% of the population reporting drinking heavily recently. Place essentialist conceptions of Ireland as a land of drunkards still needs to be treated with scepticism, however, because this ignores the 61% of the population who did not drink heavily.

Guerrilla Art in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has been plagued for decades by political and religious conflict between the mostly Catholic, Celtic republicans who wanted an independent Irish state, and the mostly Protestant, Anglo Saxon British unionists who wanted Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom.

The ‘Britain’s Genocide by Starvation’ mural on Whiterock Road, Ballymurphy, was painted in 1999 to depict the Great Famine. This is Irish Republican propaganda that attempts to sow more hostility to Britain.


It features bleak, monochrome colouring of the Irish peasants, whose clothes are damaged and dirty and faces forlorn. The piece falsely claims that 1.5 million or more died in the famine. The real total is much closer to 1 million. The exaggerated figure, the tragically evocative imagery and the strong language like ‘holocaust’ are all used to portray Britain negatively for failing to aid Ireland, thus undermining the union with Britain which they rally against.

Tourists pass a memorial mural of Bobby Sands, a republican political prisoner and MP who died on hunger strike

The mural has become part of a broader ‘conflict tourism’ in Northern Ireland and particularly Belfast where sites that were never officially tourist sites now attract tourists. Some have criticised this unofficial tourism because they see it as trivialising existing tensions as relics of the past, and also criticise tourism campaigns exaggerating how safe Ireland is from conflict returning. However, others believe that conflict tourism allows Irishmen to find closure in telling their stories, encourages self-expression through art rather than violence, boosts Ireland’s economy and encourages peace by allowing tourists to gain a warning of the dangers of conflict from people who lived through it.

The Irish Flag as a Political Symbol

The tricolour green, white and orange flag of the Republic of Ireland was adopted in the Irish constitution in 1937.


The flag’s orange stripe pays respect to the Protestant population of Ireland by representing the ‘Order of the Orange.’ The order is a Northern Ireland-based Protestant-only fraternal organisation that celebrated the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 where the Protestant Dutchmen William of Orange overthrew King James II of England, a Catholic, and established Protestant ascendancy to the throne and an end to absolute rule. Today the organisation continues to represent Protestant political views and perform marches celebrating Protestant culture and the union with great Britain.


The flag’s green stripe represents revolution and particularly Catholic struggles for civil rights. The ‘Society of the United Irish’ was a group for liberals formed in the 1780’s by elite Protestants who initially wanted a lessening of British influence in Ireland, parliamentary reforms and controversially amongst the group, more rights for Catholics. The group’s symbol was a green flag with a harp in the center, hence the gr218px-unitedirishbannereen used in the Republic flag today. The society grew by including the much poorer Catholic population and in 1798 held a rebellion that was brutally crushed because of lack of leadership after British purges and because French aid (France was then enemies with Britain) failed to make it to Ireland.

The colour White is used in the middle of the flag to symbolise a desire for peace between Protestants and Catholics, republicans and unionists.

Despite the original unifying spirit of the flag, it is now seen as representing Catholics and the Republic and is seen as divisive by Protestants and is rarely flown by them.

The Basics: An Ireland Divided

Modern day Ireland is divided into two separate countries: Northern Ireland, which remains a part of the United kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, which makes up 5/6’s of Irelands landmass and is not a part of the United Kingdom. The capital and largest city of the north is Belfast, which holds 333 thousand of Northern Ireland’s population of  1.8 million. The Republic of Ireland is a country of 4.6 million and it’s largest city and capital is Dublin, which holds 527,000 people.

Ireland’s recent history has been of violent struggles between the Irish and the British, as well as between the mostly Catholic Republicans dominant in today’s Republic of Ireland and mostly Protestant Unionists/Loyalists in traditionally dominant in Northern Ireland.




About Me:

My name is Adam Papley.
I am 20 years of age and I am currently in my third year studying a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Politics and Philosophy at The University of Melbourne.

This blog will be developed over the course of a semester for my subject ‘Traveling Smarter’, and will serve as a space for me to reflect as I study the political history of Ireland. I am particularly interested in this country as it is a place I will be visiting in my travels later this year. I am hoping to learn more about the troubles between the Protestants and Catholics, tensions between Ireland and Britain, the recent invigoration of the Irish economy and the division between the two Ireland’s that constitute the Ireland we know today.

Here’s to a great semester.