Celtworld: Where mythology met lasers

As a child growing up in Co. Waterford, a trip to Tramore was one of the most exciting things to do with your day. Frittering your 2p and 5p coins away on the slot machines in Freddie’s, eating chips from the Beach Grill on the promenade, playing crazy golf and trying to win a hideous and probably flammable teddy in one of the many fairground stands made for tremendous family fun.

However, in 1992 an entirely new dimension was added to the seaside landscape of Tramore. Built for a rumoured cost of 4.5 million old pounds, Celtworld was the newest, shiniest and most exciting thing to happen to the Déise county since Val Doonican. It was created by a group called Vectovision (possibly the most gloriously Nineties-tech name for a company ever) and was an indoor attraction that had all the latest technology. Boasting holograms, lasers (wow!) and even COMPUTER GRAPHICS, which, looking back, doesn’t really mean anything and is quite vague indeed, the high-tech nature of Celtworld was more than enough to sufficiently boost excitement levels at the time. If 8-year-old me from then could see an iPad now she’d probably pass out.

The interior of the building was decorated with massive Jim Fitzpatrick illustrations, one of which can be seen in the picture on the left. I’d love to know what happened to them. Someone find one for me!

Encased in a gleaming white purpose-built Art Deco structure, Celtworld was a wild, interactive ride through Irish myths and legends. By wild I mean it had the largest revolving theatre in Europe (YEAH! Take that, Euro-jerks!), which spun slowly from one tale to the next, each one brought to life through a mix of screen graphics, moving artwork and animatronic figures whilst we sat agog in 3D glasses. The fact that all of this went down in 1992 means that there is absolutely shag all about it online, so all I have to go on are my hazy memories and a scanned magazine article with a decent amount of photos which is wonderfully optimistic about the whole endeavour (courtesy of Fústar, our glorious leader).

Celtpower! It’s unstoppable! Unless it meets Turtle power.

My strongest memory from the Celtworld experience was being utterly terrified by a giant scary eyeball that emerged from the ceiling and fixed the audience with an unblinking death stare. It turns out that this was part of the tale of Lugh fighting against Balor of the Evil Eye. The scanned magazine article also reminded me of another distressing memory from the snazzy journey through mythology, where during the tale of Cú Chulainn, the warrior is transformed into a monstrous version of himself by the frenzy of battle, which rose up from the ground in front of the screen and menacingly loomed over the squealing children in the audience. The lousy fecker.

He’s no Michael Fassbender, that’s for damn sure.

After the excitement of the theatre section, we were then moved along to the Otherworld, which was a large room with different interactive sections, interspersed with Ogham stones and questions about the stories we had just been told. There was a big tree in the middle that had severed heads dangling from the branches, I remember that if you walked right up to it, the heads (or a staff member hiding with a microphone somewhere) would start talking and say things like “Will you scratch my nose?” which was HILARIOUS at the time. There was also a toadstool you could sit on and have fairy wings light up behind you, to make you one of the sídhe. Somewhere at home there’s a picture of me sitting on that very toadstool, which I’m now determined to dig out of the dusty photo albums, if only to see if it still looks as magical as I remember. Somehow I doubt that it does.

None of your flimsy red and blue lensed 3D glasses here, oh no. Plenty of large doily collars though.

Celtworld closed in 1995 after racking up massive losses, which contrasts pretty sharply with the upbeat and positive tone of the magazine article. It brightly declared that “we have just witnessed the way tourism is going”, “the Celtworlds of this world are the future” and predicted similar attractions opening all over England. Although they couldn’t have been wider off the mark, I remember my brother and I feverishly discussing what our favourite bits of the flashy experience were on the car journey home, having had another brilliant day out in Tramore.

(by Kitty Catastrophe)

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11 thoughts on “Celtworld: Where mythology met lasers

  1. Simon McGarr says:

    This is brill. But there was another Celt-themed attraction about at the same time. It was probably in Wexford, as that where we went on our holliers. But it was a whole (not finished) village with crannogs and all.

  2. This is great! Celtworld was to have been be the jewel in the crown of ‘down around’ and it seemed as if my Tramore cousins spoke of nothing else in the run up to its opening. By the time it did open I was about 15/16 and as a jaded dillettante South Dublin teenager acted as if I was a little too old and worldy wise to get excited about it, altough secretly I couldn’t wait to go.

    That said, I do recall my Celtworld experience as being a little anticlimactic. My younger cousin (this was about his tenth visit) and I were the only people there, and all I can really remember of the day was that monstrous Cú Chulainn rising up before us. It didn’t really matter though, as an afternoon spent playing Double Dragon in Freddie’s awaited. The Beach Grill though? A walk up the hill to Cunningham’s would a far wiser move. Chips and batter sausages to die for.

  3. Great to hear someone enjoyed it so much, I always felt we were all short-changed. It was far too lo-tech in the second s area and not like a cave/shell interior I envisaged. Great location, great people but a bit of a scam I felt. Jim FitzPatrick

    • fústar says:

      Hey, Jim. Good to hear from you. What was the extent of your involvement? Concept stage? Design stage?

      • I designed the graphics and allowed use of all my artwork. It could have been an amazing show but the money for the actual show was only a fraction of what was intended -the bulk went on a very ordinary building and was siphoned off in all kinds of dodgy ways into other areas.
        I still feel it was well intended but somewhere the scammers took over and took the loot intended for the show area. Still annoys me. It should have been investigated but the then government refused. Innocent investors lost about £25,000 each!

    • Thanks so much for the comment Jim! Since writing this other people have told me that they all have fond memories of it too. I was just explaining it to a friend this morning and now she wishes it was still there!

  4. Aisling says:

    I had always thought that I imagined this mad place with the giant eyeball hovering over me! I must have been about 4 when I visited, thanks for posting this!

  5. Stewy says:

    I used to visit every time my family took the trip to Tramore. Me a geeky 12 year old forcing my little brothers to choose celtworld as our destination only to have them freakout ever time the warped form of Cu Chulainnreared up! I can remember a huge illustration that hung in the main Cave/forest of a Red haired Sidhe Queen and forever wanting to own a copy got me into illustration as it happens but ive never been able to find that picture. To Kitty thanks for the reminder of a happy childhood. And Jim Fitzpatrick for creating the world of myth In such A fantastic and memorable way.

  6. libusa says:

    i remember this big tree with heads hanging from it, swaying as if there was wind… one of them being able to talk… and that head actually reacted to the children running around the tree… “i d like to have that pair of runners you ‘re wearing” … 🙂 the children were gone in no time at all … hehe

  7. Ed says:

    I just came across this blog after reading an article about Celtworld in one of Fintan O’Toole’s books from the early 90s, which brought back the memories of the place; I would have been around the same age visiting from Dublin. They had a mystical-Celtic Quasar as well if I remember rightly, that was the best craic, hiding behind a neon celtic cross and then jumping out to shoot someone with a laser, just what Fionn Mccumhaill would have done with all his wisdom.

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