Ireland & The Shannon Experience

Ireland & The Shannon Experience

The Shannon Region

The history of Shannon since its beginning in the 1940's has been a series of challenges and triumphs. Shannon Airport is located on the west coast of Ireland, on the north side of the Shannon Estuary. Shannon was selected in the mid 1930's as a site for a transatlantic airport. A group that included the pioneering aviator Charles Lindbergh, visited the site in the late 1930's and endorsed its selection. 

The runway at Shannon was completed in 1940 and flights commenced in 1942. The first scheduled transatlantic flight through Shannon was in October 1945, after which the volume of transatlantic flights grew rapidly. About 50% of the aircraft flying the Atlantic used Shannon for refuelling in the 1950's. A major business developed at the airport to service these flights - including in 1947 the world's first duty free shop.

Through the 1950's two thousand jobs were created directly at the airport, and another five thousand indirect jobs in the region and elsewhere in the country.

In 1959 the Shannon Free Airport Development Company Limited was formed as a development agency. Its mandate was to generate alternative sources of business and traffic through the airport. The company established the world's first industrial free zone on a site adjoining the airport, and developed a number of tourist products within the Shannon Region. It also marketed the airport among the airlines of the world as a training base, refuelling stop, maintenance and repair centre, and a destination stop.

From the outset, Shannon Development was an immediate and dramatic success. The free zone attracted some major international companies such as De Beers Corporation, Jonathan Logan, Standard Pressed Steel and General Electric. Major airlines began using Shannon as a training base, and the tourist attractions such as Bunratty Castle quickly developed an international reputation.

In 1968 the government extended Shannon Development's mandate to cover development in the wider Shannon region. Over the last 60 years, the Shannon region has continued to grow and develop in common with other parts of the country.

Shannon and Ireland are now moving to a post-industrial society in common with the rest of the country. The free zone concept in its present format is moving to the end of its lifecycle. The task now is to create conditions to attract investors in the research and advanced international service activity sectors. This means creating conditions including access transport and communications facilities of a suitable standard. In typical Shannon tradition, these issues are now being addressed and a series of imaginative new initiatives are under way.

The Shannon Concept

National Economic Impact of Shannon Ideas and Concepts

Innovative Developments at Shannon that contributed to national development include:

  • Promotion of FDI: Shannon was the first gateway for the entry of export based foreign direct investment into Ireland. Today Shannon is still the largest single site concentration of foreign investment in Ireland.
  • Promotion of International Financial/IT Services: Shannon Development led the way in the 1960's in promoting international financial IT. The Dublin International Financial Services Centre was established in 1987. IDA assisted international IT and financial services projects now employ upwards of 60,000 people.
  • Training Needs and Facilities: There was close co-operation from the outset between Shannon Development and the new investors. These investors’ needs included an industrial training centre which Shannon Development established within the free zone.
  • Industrial Parks: The Shannon free zone was Ireland's first industrial park and the experience was later applied in other population centres throughout the country.
  • Technology Development: To attract high quality investment the need for a strong technologically oriented university was recognized. Shannon's chief executive was the first chairman of The University of Limerick, Ireland's first technological university. To forge closer links between the RDA and the university, the university president was appointed to the board of Shannon Development. In 1980 one of the first innovation centres in Europe was developed on a site adjacent to the university campus.
  • National Technology Park and the Regional Knowledge Network: In 1984 Shannon Development in partnership with the university established the country's first technology park on a 120ha site adjoining the campus. This concept has now been extended to create a knowledge network of five smaller technology parks and centres throughout the Shannon Region.
  • Other Business Infrastructure: Over the years Shannon Development led the way in developing other forms of business infrastructure to cater for the diverse needs of a growing number of Irish entrepreneurs. Initiatives included small industry estates; an enterprise centre network; innovation centres; business incubator units and a specialised food industry centre.
  • Tourism: Shannon Development led the way in the 1960s in developing and marketing heritage based tourism attractions, such as medieval castle banquets and folk parks. Shannon Development continues to develop innovative tourist attractions in areas of the Shannon Region outside the influence of the major industrial centres. In recent years EU structural funds have been used creatively to develop new tourist products such as Kilrush Creek Marina, the Tralee Tourism cluster, Doonbeg Links golf course, Limerick Heritage precinct and others. Bunratty Castle and Folk Park were both established in 1963 and are still consistently among the country's top 3 visitor attractions.
  • Regional Planning and Development: In 1968 the Irish government extended Shannon Development's mandate to include the wider Shannon Region. Thus Shannon Development became Ireland's first Regional Development Agency (RDA). It produced the country's first regional industrial development plan in 1969. This acted as a model for similar plans in other regions.
  • Rural Development: Shannon Development has always used its tourism development and marketing expertise, as well as its expertise in small industry development, to promote rural development.

 Shannon's Economic Development Ideas and Europe

From an early stage, developments at Shannon attracted a lot of interest in Europe:

  • Free Zones: Britain, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Malta, the Czech Republic, Estonia, FYROM, and Croatia are among the countries to have benefitted from Shannon's expertise.
  • Special Economic Zones: The first SEZ in Mielec, Poland, was developed on the basis of a report and plan drawn up by Shannon based consultants. The SEZ programme in Latvia also benefitted from Shannon consultancy advice.
  • Duty Free Shops: Shannon International made a major breakthrough in its relationship with the former Soviet Union, and opened a series of duty free shops in Moscow airport as well as downtown Moscow and other parts of the former Soviet Union in the 1980's.
  • Regional Development: The Shannon regional development experience has been a subject of considerable interest for many European regional development agencies for the last 5 years.
  • EC Funds: The Shannon region has been the beneficiary of European social, agricultural guidance and guarantee, structural and cohesion funds, since Ireland joined the EC in 1973. Shannon executives quickly developed an expertise in securing and maximising the use of such funds and have shared this experience with many emerging and pre-accession countries throughout Europe.


“…a new economic climate has been created in the region, characterized by a remarkable entrepreneurial dynamism. This is manifest not only in technology and industry in a narrow sense, but also in the renovation of towns, adaptation of airport services and development of cultural activities” (OECD Report)