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‘Holy Island can be a world class tourism destination’

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*Lough Derg as seen from Holy Island. Photograph: Niall Culligan

Hopes remain high that Holy Island will be “a game-changer” in developing East Clare’s tourism offering but elected representatives have acknowledged the timeline for the project’s delivery is “dragging on a bit”.

Elected members of the Killaloe Municipal District were recently updated by Acting Head of Tourism with Clare County Council, Deirdre O’Shea and Tourism Officer, Joan Tarmey on how plans are progressing for the uninhabited island which was once a monastic settlement.

Conserving Holy Island as a significant historic and cultural site plus expanding its attractiveness as a tourism destination have been listed as long-term objectives of the project. Thus far, €900,000 has been received in rural regeneration funding with match funding of €307,000 provided by the Council giving a total of €1.2m.

Tarmey outlined that they were hopeful to appoint a consultancy design team “this side of Christmas” for what she described as “one of the most significant ecclesiastical sites in Ireland”. This appointment would then be followed by the commissioning of surveys and technical reports subject to Ministerial consents for geophysical and archaeological surveys plus ecological studies. Subsequently, preliminary designs and a sketch design will be carried out leading to the design to planning submission by the first quarter of 2021.

“This will become a high quality world class tourism destination,” she declared but cautioned “It is a very complex project, there will be works on the mainland, the visitor centre and significant public realms work” with the possibility of a park and ride scheme. Engagement is ongoing with partners such as National Monument Service (NMS), Office of Public Works (OPW), Waterways Ireland, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Fáilte Ireland plus various sections of Clare County Council.

Addressing councillors, Tarmey stated, “We’re at a point where it is really important to engage with the local community, we’re looking for your assistance in making sure we work well with the local community and set up meetings. This is not just Mountshannon but much wider than that, there are a number of groups from Whitegate to Tuamgraney and Scariff” (to engage with).

She added, “There is a lot of work gone in to date and a lot of work to go to make sure we have a world class tourism destination. Lots of local businesses will benefit from it. It is under the Hidden Heartlands brand so lot of funding will come from it, we will see significant investment, then they will be able to increase profile of area. I think the timing is very good. There is a significant time-frame involved in completing the surveys, it will be a long process”.

Cathaoirleach of the Killaloe MD, Cllr Pat Burke (FG) praised Tarmey for the work thus far and queried if the €1.2m would be sufficient, “there shouldn’t be any shortage of funding or running into difficulty”. “I hope not but not until we get tenders back we won’t know. We’re looking to get an outline budget but it will be very much a guide and then engaging with a QS on that. While we say those funds are there and match funding is coming, we hope it will achieve all of that, there is no reason to say it won’t,” Tarmey replied.

Referring to the completion of designs that will run until the beginning of 2021, Cllr Pat Hayes (FF) commented, “There will be another year gone by before it is gone through planning process. Do I get the impression from platforms for growth that ye will proceed with some aspects for growth?”. O’Shea responded, “The platforms for growth is only for the evaluation process. We can have a live application for building after the first quarter in 2021”.

“It seems awful to think it will be the end of 2021 before we spend any capital funding on the project, three tourism seasons have gone since we started the project. The timescale seems awful drawn out, I appreciate there are lots of issues,” Hayes said. “The amount of work that goes in at this point could save us a lot of time later, we’re not going to design something in a month, we don’t want to put unrealistic time pressures on the team,” Tarmey answered.

Cllr Joe Cooney (FG) welcomed the investment into Holy Island’s future. “The timeline is dragging out a bit but we’re all well aware of the criteria and red tape, I would have preferred if it was 2020 but it took an awful long time to get Holy Island into the ownership of Clare County Council. This is really the jewel in the crown for East Clare and Lough Derg”.

For Cllr Tony O’Brien (FF), the Inis Cealtra Visitor Experience will be “a game-changer for East Clare”. He stated, “It is very important to have it right, we would all love it to be open tomorrow but we have to get it right”.

Newmarket-on-Fergus native, Páraic McMahon is a freelance journalist and broadcaster currently working for numerous national and local publications including The Clare Echo, The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent, The Irish Times, RTÉ, TheJournal.ie, The42.ie. A graduate of Mary Immaculate College, Páraic was previously employed by The Clare Herald and Clare FM. If you have a story, tip or some feedback for him then send an email to - paraic@clareecho.ie

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