THE most significant tourism project ever to be undertaken in East Clare has taken a major step forward with the announcement of funding for the development of the Inis Cealtra (Holy Island) visitor centre in the heart of Mountshannon village.
The Department of Rural and Community Development has today (Thursday, November 10) allocated €3,906,252 to Clare County Council for the Inis Cealtra Visitor Experience. The overall project cost is €4,882,815, 20% of which is match funded by the Local Authority and 80% is funded by the Department.
Having taken 41 acres on the island into public ownership in 2015, Clare County Council this year acquired the Old Rectory building overlooking Mountshannon Harbour, Scarriff Bay and Lough Derg. A detailed design of the proposed transformation into a mainland visitor centre is currently underway following extensive public consultation and will interpret the monastic site and its surrounds.
Once completed in 2024, the visitor centre building will comprise a reception area, three exhibition areas interpreting stories from Mountshannon and the island of Inis Cealtra, as well as a revitalised rectory garden. Boat trips will initially focus on bringing visitors around the island, while trips to the island are part of the future plans for the overall experience.
The funding received through the Department’s Rural Regeneration and Development Fund will also deliver a series of walking trails around Mountshannon and an upgrade to the public realm in the village.
Councillor Tony O’Brien, Cathaoirleach, Clare County Council, said: “This is a landmark project for East Clare that greatly adds to the overall tourism offering in the county. The east of the county is sometimes overlooked by visitors to Clare due to the absence of a headline visitor attraction. The benefits accrued for the entire Mid-West region from the development of the Lough Derg Blueway will be significantly complemented by this visitor project and I look forward to its completion.”
Pat Dowling, Chief Executive, Clare County Council, stated: “We are very grateful to Government for the support to complete this project as it will add significantly to the suite of tourism attractions in County Clare. The project presents significant benefits to the local community and the wider economy, and will also introduce one of Ireland’s most important and historically significant ecclesiastical sites to a wider national and international audience.”
“Great credit for delivering this project must go to the staff of Clare County Council and the local community who have worked closely in devising a project that delivers a range of social and economic benefits to Mountshannon and East Clare.”
Mr Dowling added: “I must also acknowledge my colleagues in the local authorities of Galway and Tipperary, as well as Fáilte Ireland and Waterways Ireland, because this project will be a key catalyst within both the Shannon Tourism Masterplan and Lough Derg Destination Experience Development Plan.”
Leonard Cleary, Director of Rural Development, Clare County Council, said: “The success of the Inis Cealtra Visitor Experience will continue to be based on a collaborative working relationship involving the Local Authority, the community of East Clare, and a range of State agencies.
“Clare County Council looks forward to progressing this phase of the Inis Cealtra Visitor Experience through our collaborative partnership with the Department, the local community and Elected Members, Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands (Fáilte Ireland), Waterways Ireland, the OPW, the National Monuments Service and National Parks and Wildlife Service. A continuation of this excellent working relationship will be key to progressing the next phase of the development, including the upgrade to Mountshannon Harbour, mooring facilities on the island, and the upgrade of walkways on the ecclesiastical site.”
Deirdre O’Shea, Head of Tourism, Clare County Council, said: “The Inis Cealtra Visitor Experience represents an exciting milestone for the project after three years of detailed preparatory work by our Tourism Department.”
“Holy Island is one of the most historically important ecclesiastical sites in Ireland and has important links to the last High King of Ireland, Brian Ború.”
Ms O’Shea added: “The tourism potential around this attraction is significant and Clare County Council looks forward to progressing the visitor centre project, and future phases of the project, in a way that sustainably manages the successful delivery of a landmark visitor attraction in East Clare. The project will complement ongoing work within the Tourism Department of Clare County Council and the wider sector to establish and promote Clare as a year-round destination.”
Referred to locally as the ‘Jewel of the Lough’, Inis Cealtra continues to be used today as a burial ground. The ruins and buildings still standing on the island date back to the 7th century when the monastic site was established by St Caimin. Buildings on the island include a 24-metre-high round tower, an oratory, and several churches.
The consultancy team appointed by Clare County Council to progress the project comprises McCullough Mulvin Architects, Tandem Partners Ltd. (interpretation/visitor experience designers), Tobin Consulting Engineers (quantity surveyors/project managers), Design Works (branding and design consultants), Amion (economics and financial management consultancy) and Cognisense Ltd.
Joan Tarmey, Tourism Officer, Clare County Council, and Project Coordinator for this extensive project, said: “The award-winning consultancy team has already commenced a detailed design of the proposed transformation of the Old Rectory building in Mountshannon into a mainland visitor centre, which will interpret the monastic site and its surrounds. The design team are doing a superb job and we all look forward to works commencing on site in 2023”.
“I want to also acknowledge the huge support from the local community for this project to date and look forward to a continued successful working relationship.”
Political reaction has been warm, with Deputy Cathal Crowe welcoming the news. “Mountshannon is a beautiful village and its location means it has huge potential in terms of a tourism stop-off,” he said.“I hope, in time, this funding will see visitor numbers increase in Mountshannon and the surrounding area and help support employment locally.
Deputy Michael McNamara said: “Since the closure of the youth hostel in Mountshannon, the village and East Clare more broadly has fallen far behind the growth in tourism on Clare’s west coast. A new project, centred on the iconic Inis Cealtra/Holy Island and led by Clare County Council, will help put East Clare and Lough Derg back on the tourism map.”
Councillor Pat Burke of Whitegate, described the funding as “fantastic news”. “A figure of €3.9 million from this government and particularly this Department is a huge investment in a rural village and in rural Ireland,” he said. “Clare County Council, Leonard Cleary and the rural directorate made application for the refurbishment and conversion of the Rectory which was purchased last year. This is a substantial amount of money and will do a lot of good work. The Rectory is an ideal location overlooking the lake with a view of Holy Island. It’s a perfect setting for what we hope will attract large numbers of visitors. Great credit for securing the funding is due to Deputy Joe Carey and Senator Timmy Dooley.”
Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald.
Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti.
She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at The University of Galway.
If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 065 6864146.