ONE of the pioneers of tourism in Clare would be “turning in his grave” at the decision to curtail access to Shannon Heritage facilities, a local authority member has said. Councillor Pat Hayes has slammed the decision to keep Knappogue Castle and Craggaunowen closed until further notice, in response to the pandemic, and to limit the season for Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. He said the situation flew in the face of the legacy of Dr Brendan O’Regan, who was instrumental in developing the amenities. “Given how important domestic tourism will be this year, and the fact that people are looking for facilities close to home, the decision is very disappointing,” he said. “As well as their importance to tourism in the midwest, these are vital facilities in terms of Irish history and heritage. Dr Brendan O’Regan would be turning in his grave over this.”
The Fianna Fáil member there is now a strong case for a local authority take-over of Craggaunowen, the award-winning open air museum of Bronze Age life, outside Quin. “I think what has happened here is that Shannon Group is reeling from the impact of the pandemic,” he said. “Naturally, the main focus is on Shannon Airport, which needs a major injection of funding, but it remains my view that facilities of Shannon Heritage would be better if they were run separately and aligned with Fáilte Ireland or Clare County Council. The facility at Craggaunowen, which Brendan O’Regan helped to develop along with John Hunt, is of such importance that there is a case for taking it into the ownership of the council. That could create a real opportunity for the council to develop its tourism interests in East Clare, alongside Inis Cealtra, and in a similar way to what it has achieved at the Cliffs [of Moher].”
Meanwhile, the Chairperson of Tourism East Clare, Arlene White, said the impact of the closures would be significant. “We will be relying on domestic tourism from what’s left of the 2020 season and into 2021,” she said. “It’s a massive pity that all of these sites won’t be fully available.”
One of the proprietors of Castlefergus Lodge in Quin, a stone’s throw from Craggaunowen, Knappogue and Bunratty agreed that the closures are concerning. “Most of our guests are from the domestic market,” Cheryl Melton said. “At least Bunratty will now be open for part of the season, but the overall impact of the closures will be very significant.”
A spokesperson for Shannon Group said the pandemic had had “a catastrophic impact” on Shannon Heritage visitor attractions. “The closure of all our sites since March has severely impacted our revenue stream,” a statement said. “Our visitor attractions at Shannon Heritage rely heavily on overseas visitors flying into the region, who account for up to 70% of our visitors and revenue. It is becoming increasingly likely that there will be no international tourists in Ireland for the remainder of this year, and unfortunately the anticipated level of domestic visitors will not be near sufficient to make up the shortfall.”
Shannon Group noted that from August 31 when Bunratty and King John’s Castle temporarily close again, staff will return to temporary lay-off. “Staff at other sites which are not reopening will remain on temporary lay-off and Shannon Heritage is liaising directly with affected staff,” a spokesperson said.