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The Department of Rural and Community Development has allocated €3,906,252 to Clare County Council for the Inis Cealtra Visitor Experience in Mountshannon.

Timeframe outlined for Holy Island visitor centre

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A VISITOR centre for Inis Cealtra is expected to be operational by early to mid-2023, local councillors have been told.

Confirmation of the purchase, last year, of the Old Rectory building in Mountshannon, provided a boost for plans to maximise the potential of Holy Island as a major visitor attraction in the east of the county.

At the January meeting of the Killaloe Municipal District, Councillor Pat Burke sought an update on work to develop the centre and to provide visitor amenities on the 41-acre island.

“The purchase of the Old Rectory last year was great news and very welcome for the whole of East Clare,” Councillor Burke said.

“Since then, the dust has settled on that news and I suppose people have been getting curious about what’s happening next and they’re anxious to see progress.

“The Holy Island project is eagerly-anticipated across the region and people are very optimistic about it.”

A written reply from Tourism Officer Joan Tarmey, outlined a timeframe indicating that the building is expected to be operational before the middle of next year.

“Following purchase of the Old Rectory by Clare Co Council in October 2021, the Tourism Department is making steady progress on the Inis Cealtra project to re-purpose and refurbish the Old Rectory site in Mountshannon into a new visitor centre,” a written response to Councillor Burke’s motion said.

“Working closely with the design team, a series of works at the Old Rectory site is underway/planned to inform the detailed design stage including an Asbestos survey, Opening Up works and Site investigations. These works are expected to be completed by March, which should enable statutory approvals by Q2 2022 (Fire Cert, DAC).”

The response also outlined the timeline for construction and operational phases of the landmark building.

“Work on concept interpretation and branding is also continuing apace,” Ms Tarmey’s response outlined.

“Initial detailed design has commenced and on completion of Opening Up Works and Site Investigation, it is expected that detailed design will be completed by Q3. Following this, a tender procurement process will be undertaken and it is expected to have the successful Contractor selected by Q4 2022.

“Construction on site will then commence with a view to being in a position to have the building operational by Q2/Q3 2023.”

Councillor Burke told The Champion that he has also learned that the budget is in place for design and to bring the building works to the planning stage, but that a further funding application will be needed for construction.

“Another application for Category 1 funding from the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund (RRDF) will be required,” he confirmed.

“I am fairly confident that this will be successful. I’m very happy that works are in progress and I don’t think the Department of Rural and Community Development would fund part of a project and then not fund the rest. We will be lobbying the minister on this and I’d be very optimistic about the funding. The project will be shovel-ready at that point.”

The Whitegate man said that, overall, he is very satisfied that the Council had managed to advance the Holy Island project in the difficult circumstances of the pandemic.

“Works are in progress and the response I received was positive,” he said. “The building isn’t left idle. I’m quite confident about securing further funding and we could be looking at running boat tours around the island next summer if the centre is ready.

“Even if the amenities on the island aren’t yet in place, visitors would be able to go out by boat around the island. Things are progressing and the timeframe is exciting.”

Having taken Inis Cealtra into public ownership in 2015, the council earmarked the The Old Rectory for redevelopment given that the site overlooks Mountshannon Harbour and Lough Derg.

The building will serve as a mainland visitor centre, which will interpret the seventh century monastic site of Inis Cealtra and its surrounds. It was purchased for an undisclosed sum.

The Visitor Experience project is a collaborative project involving Clare County Council, Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands (Fáilte Ireland), Waterways Ireland, the Office of Public Works (OPW), The National Monuments Service and The National Parks and Wildlife Service.

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