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One of County Clare landmark attractions, Holy Island in Lough Derg Photograph by John Kelly.

Council in talks to purchase Holy Island

CLARE County Council has confirmed it is at an advanced stage of negotiations to secure the purchase of Holy Island (Inis Cealtra) on Lough Derg.

It is understood that a purchase price has been agreed between Clare County Council and the landowner and it is now at a stage where the council is seeking funding from Government to purchase the island.

Ger Dollard, director of services with Clare County Council, confirmed that the acquisition of the island has been under consideration for a number of years and that an opportunity recently arose to bring the site into public ownership.

Ger Dollard confirmed that the council are in advanced talks to acquire Holy Island
Ger Dollard confirmed that the council are in advanced talks to acquire Holy Island

“We are fully aware of the significance of this location and would be anxious to see it forming part of the local tourism product and be available to the wider public. We are conscious of the strong heritage, environmental and conservation considerations associated with the island and, for that reason, have commenced the preparation of terms of reference for a visitor management plan on how the untapped potential of this site can be realised. A critical first step is to secure public ownership and we look forward to receiving ongoing Government support for this initiative,” Mr Dollard said.

Clare County Council has been in discussion for some time, regarding the acquisition of Inis Cealtra and, this past week, it wrote to key Government ministers, seeking support to acquire the 40 acres of land, which are in private ownership.

Holy Island is considered to be one of the most important historical and ecclesiastical sites in Ireland.
It is understood that Brian Ború’s brother was an abbot there. Known throughout East Clare as the jewel of the Lough, the island comprises 40 acres, with more than four acres in the ownership of the Office of Public Works (OPW).

The commitment by Clare County Council to buy the historic island has been described by Clare Labour TD Michael McNamara as “a landmark decision”. He said it comes at an important time as UNESCO considers Ireland’s Tentative List of monastic sites for World Heritage designation and Inis Cealtra is currently on the list of early medieval monastic sites.

“It is understood that, on acquisition of the land, the council would develop a suitable tourism proposal which respects the environmental, historic and conservation aspects of the island,” Deputy McNamara said.

Further to plans to secure the purchase of the site, Deputy McNamara said Mountshannon Community Council is also planning to mount an Inis Cealtra exhibition in 2015.

“The exhibition will include a 3D interpretative scale model of the monastic site, a 10-minute audio/visual story about Inis Cealtra, as well as records and images of the archaeological excavations which took place there from 1970 – 1980,” Deputy McNamara added.

The island is still used as a burial ground and the ruins date back to the 7th century. They include a 24m high round tower, an oratory and a number of churches, from when the monastic site was established by St Caimin.

Chairperson of the Killaloe Municipal District, Councillor Joe Cooney, said talks have been ongoing for the past 12 to 18 months and he confirmed a deal has been reached in the last fortnight, subject to funding.

The landowner and council officials he said are now “a step closer” to bringing the island into public ownership. “Other organisations in the past have tried to secure this but now I think we have gone a step closer to achieving it, but it is all subject to funding. I think we are getting an excellent deal and it is a major attraction in the heart of East Clare. We’re going to talk to ministers in different departments to see if we can secure funding and move it forward. We would be hoping to get all the funding from the Government. I think it is a major step forward for tourism in East Clare,” he said.

Chairman of East Clare Tourism and local county councillor, Pat Hayes, added, “The purchase of Holy Island, bringing it into public ownership, will be wonderful for East Clare, the county and the whole region. It is one of our flagship projects that we have been looking at for a long time. Looking around the county at different projects, like the Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty and the Burren we looked at Loop Head Lighthouse going from strength to strength and we felt we were the poor relation.

“We would be very anxious that not only would the island be bought but that investment would be put in place to develop it as a proper amenity in the area in the long run, which would provide access to the public and be well managed. At the moment, we are hoping it will be purchased. At present, Clare County Council doesn’t have a set budget for buying property like that.”

He added that, if successful, the project would offer significant opportunities for development across the region. “If it only generated 20,000 to 30,000 people visiting the island annually like Loop Head, it would be far greater than the 2,000 that visit at present,” he said.

Locally-based councillor Pat Burke said, “I’m delighted to say that negotiations that I have been in since joining the council have come to fruition where agreement has been got between the council and the landowner for Holy Island, so it’s pending funding now. It’s in my parish of Iniscealtra. Clonrush and Mountshannon were amalgamated back in the year 1700 and since then it’s known as Iniscealtra, so it has particular significance for the country for tourism and for East Clare itself where the potential here is massive, provided it is grasped by the powers that be and developed.There is no doubt it has potential to be a major tourism flagship project for the area”.

To date he said public access has been limited and he felt it is timely during the millennial celebrations of Brian Ború that this arrangement would come about.

Carol Byrne

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