Renewed energy and investment needs to be pumped into Lisdoonvarna Spa Wells to prevent authentic selling points of the landmark being “lost forever,” according to North Clare representatives.
Referencing the success of Cliffs of Moher, Loop Head Lighthouse, Vandeluer Walled Gardens, Holy Island and the Doolin Pier Development subsequent to Clare County Council acquiring the sites, Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG) appealed to the local authority to begin engagement with Lisdoonvarna Failte CLG and the Rooska & SPA Wells with the objective of bringing Lisdoonvarna Spa Wells under their umbrella.
Cllr Garrihy stated, “This site and unique, authentic destination Heritage Center with the authentic universal selling point of Wellness is in danger of being lost forever along with the very identity of the town built around it in the absence of focussed state intervention”.
For over 200 years the waters that flow from springs in the Clare Shale in Lisdoonvarna have attracted visitors for their curative properties. The waters are rich in sulphur and iron and in 1875 the first bath-house was built. By 1895 over 20,000 visitors were coming annually.
An opportunity for “real sustainable rural settlement Ireland’s original Victorian spa town and destination for wellness visitor experience” exists in Lisdoonvarna, Director of Service, Leonard Cleary noted in response to Garrihy’s motion. “It is important to consider this opportunity in the context that over 80 acres of lands in the town are assets in community ownership and management based on a 99 year lease scheme”.
Findings from feasibility studies by Lisdoonvarna Failte CLG and the Rooska & SPA Wells Trust have indicated that there is a significant business opportunity for wellness tourism and that a multi-million euro investment is required. “It would be an unreasonable expectation that the community could have the capacity to invest and manage a project of this scale. The option of private sector investment has been slow to materialise despite the best efforts of the CLG /Trust to promote it. Thus, a radical new approach needs to be considered by stakeholders,” Cleary added.
An insufficient staff capacity will prevent the Council’s rural development directorate and West Clare Municipal District from taking the project on, he admitted. The Director committed to engage an external advisor to quantify at a high level the scale of the Spa Wells project referring to structures, investment, partners and project management. Cleary believed that the two parties would have to partner with a private sector investment or consider releasing the property into private ownership to enable private sector investment.
Speaking at Monday’s Council meeting, Cllr Garrihy commented, “It is an extraordinary thing when you are offering one of the strongest assets in your town to the local authority”. He continued, “COVID has brought the tide out and it has shown who is wearing trunks. Lisdoonvarna has national and international recognition, it is Ireland’s only surviving Victorian town. A town and region grew up around it, match making ensued from it, it was a destination place”. The Chair of the West Clare MD felt Lisdoonvarna was one of the many towns bypassed by the Wild Atlantic Way and the model suggested would help its cause.
Appointing an external advisor would represent progress, Cllr Joe Killeen (FF) felt. He outlined the positivity brewing from the pavilion in Lisdoonvarna, the upgraded playground and crèche but lamented that in close proximity the period house was “falling into disrepair”. Concerns regarding resources going forward were voiced by Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF).
Chief Executive of Clare County Council, Pat Dowling told the meeting that all staff regardless of their section were kept busy. “Clare County Council can’t keep stepping in to salvage these things,” he stated. “We can’t just keep going out there and putting our arms around everything that is getting into difficulty, we can’t sustain that as an organisation”. Dowling highlighted that community ownership remained “a very important principle”.