TOURISM operators in East Clare have been urged to get behind the development of a visitor and interpretative centre for Inis Cealtra, by supporting a Part 8 application from Clare County Council.
Addressing the AGM of Tourism East Clare last week, Tourism Officer Joan Tarmey said the authority is hopeful of a funding allocation under the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund (RRDF) to progress the “landmark tourism project” for the region.
“Looking at the long-term objectives for the Inis Cealtra project, one is to conserve it as a really important ecclesiastical site,” Ms Tarmey said. “We also want to expand its attractiveness as a tourism destination. These are the two long-term objectives. It’s massively important for the Killaloe Municipal District and it’s really important in raising the profile of East Clare as an attractive visitor destination. The elected members have really been on board with this. They’ve been really wanting to see this happen for a long time and pushing to get this moving, which is brilliant. They’ve worked really well with us.”
The development of the visitor centre has been eagerly awaited since the 41-acre Holy Island was acquired by the local authority in 2015. Over that time, a number of strategic tourism plans have been developed which have been taken into account in the Inis Cealtra plan. “We need to think where this fits into the various strategies, like the County Clare Tourism Strategy 2030,” Ms Tarney explained. “It’s all about the vision of a globally renowned, sustainable and vibrant destination. Things like the theme of ‘Age Old Spirituality’ are really important from a visitor point of view and that’s where there’s a big tie in with the Inis Cealtra project. Fáilte Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands is hugely important here. It’s all about being active in nature and exploring the region’s natural assets, slowing down, recharging the batteries. There’s also the Shannon Master Plan that Waterways Ireland are going to launch very soon. That’s massively important to this whole area as well.”
With regard to the Old Rectory, where the project committee proposed to locate the visitor centre, Ms Tarmey said, “It’s a very impressive Georgian building [and] a protected structure. It’s in very good order, but it needs a bit of TLC and refurbishment and repurposing for what we require.”
“The application is open for submissions and all of the details are available to view,” she added. “You can do that online and make submissions up to April 2. The application looks at refurbishing the building and other things like pedestrian access, some work around the grounds itself. In the building itself, there will be interpretation of Inis Cealtra and Mountshannon itself. We got a lot of work done in the last two years, but there’s a significant amount of work to do going forward.”
Ms Tarmey described the project team as “very high calibre”. “It’s got a number of different stakeholders including The National Monuments Service, The Office of Public Works (OPW), Waterways Ireland, The National Parks and Wildlife Service, Fáilte Ireland, so a huge range of people have been feeding in to that steering group over two years,” she said. “We have McCullough Mulvin Architects who are the design team leading it. We also have Tobins Consulting Engineers who are project managers and quantity surveyors. We also have Tandem Partners Ltd, who are the visitor experience people. They are designing that as we speak. The collaboration with the local community too and Tourism East Clare, that’s really important.”
Responding to Ms Tarmey’s presentation, Councillor Pat Burke complimented the council’s tourism team. “Since €900,000 was granted by the government in 2019, with match funding from the council, the pressure has been on to deliver and, by God, this team has delivered,” he said. “The Old Rectory building and the repurposing of that through the Part 8 application, which will come in front of the council in the next couple of months. It’s fantastic news for all of East Clare and particularly for my own area in Whitegate and Mountshannon. The people have been waiting quite a while and been waiting patiently. I’ve always said to people [it’s moving] slowly but surely. It’s a sensitive project and it certainly will have my full support as it continues.”
The Cathaoirleach of the Killaloe Municipal District, Councillor Pat Hayes note the potential to rebalance tourism across Clare. “Now is the opportunity for us to shine in East Clare,” he said. “I think we have been playing second fiddle to the west of the county and to other parts for a while, but with the proposals going forward for Mountshannon and for Holy Island, and for the development of the greenway from Limerick to Scariff, there is real opportunity here. If we have learned anything from this lockdown, it is that there is huge potential in every community. As chair of the municipal district, we won’t be found wanting in supporting tourism again, as we have in the past. We see great opportunities ahead.”
Councillor Alan O’Callaghan predicted that developments on the horizon including the news Killaloe bridge crossing would have major benefits for tourism in East Clare. “That’ll improve access into East Clare and be a major help and the Limerick Northern Distributor Road (LNDR) to an extent, will boost access,” he said.
He also noted the wealth of other outdoor attractions in the area. “Over beside me, we have The 12 O’Clock Hills as well and there’s great work being done there. It’s a great amenity and it’s great to see the area being promoted.”
Councillor Joe Cooney complimented the Tourism East Clare committee for their hard work during a challenging time. “What has been achieved in the Killaloe Municipal District is simply unbelievable,” he said. “We have walks, we have Holy Island which has really progressed and we’re all very proud of what’s happening and I want to compliment Leonard, Deirdre, Joan and all the team. The effort, the time and the commitment they have put in is simply fantastic. There has been a lot of really hard work for a lot of people and we can be proud of what we have achieved. East Clare will be a place a lot of people are going to want to come to visit in the future. We have some great attractions and we will have a lot more in the future”.