A COMBINED €7m in funding has been announced for the development of a visitor centre at Holy Island and a maritime training centre and research base for offshore renewables in Kilrush.

Projects in East and West Clare have received a major boost with confirmation of funding through the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund (RRDF).

€3,536,919 has been allocated to redevelop a vacant building at the Kilrush Marina as a Maritime Training Centre and research base for the offshore renewable energy sector. It is unclear if this is the building in the Marina understood to be impacted by pyrite. In addition, Clare County Council will put €700,000 into the project.

It is envisaged that the training centre will provide a range of specialist mandatory maritime training courses, creating 28 jobs and catering for 1,200 trainees each year. 

An economic impact report submitted with the Kilrush application predicts a €3.2 million annual benefit to the Kilrush area but this could be significantly increased by earnings from the offshore energy sector.

Including the offshore renewable energy research base is seen as a major step forward in West Clare’s efforts to capitalise on the growing sector.

Clare TD, Joe Carey (FG) stated, “While this will bring an immediate and tangible boost to the local economy, the development of a training and research base for the offshore renewable energy sector will position Kilrush as a major player in an industry that has the potential to deliver major socio-economic benefit to rural Clare and the western seaboard. 

“Due to its unique location in a Heritage Town, it is both a rural development project and a town centre regeneration initiative. This dual designation was a significant help in my efforts to secure RRDF funding for the project. This is underlined in a major study commissioned by the Shannon Foynes Port Authority which concludes that the Shannon Estuary is on course to become an international floating offshore wind energy hub,” Carey added.

Initial plans for a Maritime Enterprise Zone, incorporating a training centre were to be based at the former Cahercon Convent in Kildysart and initial funding of €1.8 million was allocated to Clare County Council for this project. “However when it was established that renovation costs would be several times the initial estimates, it was decided that the Cahercon proposal was no longer viable,” Deputy Carey said.

With the provision of €3,906,252 from the RRDF, the way has been cleared for an ambitious tourism and regeneration project to develop Mountshannon and the broader East Clare area as an international visitor destination. The Council have committed to invest €1m in the project.

This will transform the Old Rectory in Mountshannon into the gateway to one of the most significant ecclesiastical sites in Ireland.

According to the local authority, the Inis Cealtra (Holy Island) Visitor Experience has the potential to sustain 12 full-time equivalent jobs and create an additional 116 jobs through stimulated employment.

From a current base of a few hundred visitors a year, the estimates are for 20,000 visitors in the first year of operation, rising to 75,000 after five years generating an annual spend of €4.3 million.

Deputy Carey explained, “It will build on a range of tourism infrastructure including the Lough Derg Blueway, the Lough Derg Amenity Trail and the Looped Walk Project to unlock the potential for sustainable growth in the Clare tourism sector, as well as the conservation and promotion of the county’s rich heritage”.

Costs of repurposing the Old Rectory for visitor facilities will be aided through the RRDF allocation. It will also assist in acquiring land for parking; delivering upgraded wastewater treatment in Mountshannon and providing upgraded  public realm spaces in and around the village.

Clarecastle native, Carey said, “The current wastewater treatment plant has very limited capacity. In the interest of public health and environmental protection, it is imperative that it has capacity to cater for future population growth as well as increased visitor numbers on an annual basis. This special place needs an iconic attraction to elevate it to a new level while respecting its sensitive environment and significant investment is needed to achieve this. 

The project received funding of €920,500 in 2019 for the design of visitor facilities while the Old Rectory, which is an historic building dating from 1905, was purchased by the council last year. The council also owns Inis Cealtra which has links to other heritage attractions in the region.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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