Pictured to mark the official launch of the Lisdoonvarna Heritage Plan and Design Guide were (left to right): Ailish Drake, Drake Hourigan Architects; Cllr Joe Garrihy, Clare County Council; Helen Quinn, Acting Senior Planner, Clare County Council; Congella McGuire, Heritage Officer, Clare County Council; and John Hehir, Lisdoonvarna Historical Society. Photo: Eamon Ward.
LISDOONVARNA’S future development and the conservation of its rich heritage is to be ensured under a new heritage plan and design guide.
Numerous upgrades, public realm improvements and developments have been set out in the Lisdoonvarna Heritage Plan and Design Guide which requires a total spend in excess of €4.3m. Work on the plan has been ongoing since August 2022, with a lot of recommendations based on the current look of Clonakility’s public realm in Co Cork.
A Heritage Trail is proposed to connect the many heritage sites in the town, including the Spa Wells, bridges, significant buildings and views, which, alongside an audio guide, can highlight local stories, folklore and history along the trail.
Other proposed upgrades include public realm improvements for the Main Square, Lower Main Street and Tivoli Terrace, along with conceptual drawings for the town’s arrival points, the Twin Wells, Rathlaun Wells, and the viewpoints at the Spectacle Bridge, Gowlaun Spa and Maryville House.
At the main square, it is proposed to simplify the design, remove clutter and enhance the appearance of the square. It will make it easier for the public to use the square for different events, for example farmer’s market, food festival, dancing or musical events and as a public gathering space. A water feature is to be included, where the sound and sight of running water would be central to the experience of being in the square.
Lisdoonvarna is renowned for its mineral springs making it Irelands’ best-known and only surviving Spa Town. The Spa Wells is a fascinating story of geology, water and people and operates under its original themes of heritage, tourism and wellness. The Spa Wells contain an important array of significant historical buildings and biodiversity including the Victorian Neo-Gothic style Maiville house with 50 acres of forest walks, Victorian Gardens and Pump Room, a 1940’s neo-classical Bath House and Twin Wells, and a 1970’s Dance Hall, the Pavilion building and 30 acres of parkland as public open space.
The Heritage Plan and Design Guide also makes proposals for the Spa Wells complex. The town streetscape, its architectural conservation area and the Spa Wells complex are very valuable resources to the local community and visitors to the town and, in the context of tourism, Lisdoonvarna adds to the already significant offering of the Burren and County Clare.
Suggested future uses of Gowlaun Spa include an educational campus, a boutique hotel or wedding venue, a destination spa and community facilities.
Unlike most Irish towns, Lisdoonvarna is relatively modern, having almost popped into existence in the late nineteenth century. This investment in the town relates to the huge increase in tourism and the railways but also a popular interest in health and wellbeing. Lisdoonvarna continued to boom right into the twentieth century, making itself famous for the matchmaking festival, dancing and music just as much as it was for its ‘waters’.
Estimated costs of works proposed stand at an approximate total of €4.3m, €1.2m of which is associated with the heritage trail and €800,000 for the main square upgrade. The remainder is divided between South Main St (€600,000), Tivoli Terrace (€500,000), North Main St (€500,000), Rathlaun Wells (€210,000), Gowlaun Wells (€170,000), Twin Wells (€170,000), Town Gateways (€150,000), View to Spectacle Bridge (€15,000), View to Maiville House (€15,000). No fee has yet been calculated for the Stories of Lisdoonvarna aspect which will see local oral history and personal stories recorded.
Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG) has been one of the key figures involved in the plan’s development. “The Lisdoonvarna Heritage Plan and Design Guide is a major step forward in the future renewal of the town and a guide for future direction, which has been articulated to the local community and agreed upon as part of the planning process”.
Acting senior planner in Clare County Council, Helen Quinn was confident the plan would “act as a boost in confidence for Lisdoonvarna’s economic future and incorporates measures which will build on the town’s role as a service centre for the wider North Clare area”.
Throughout the development of the plan, Clare County Council has been working alongside the community in Lisdoonvarna and local community groups, including the Lisdoonvarna Fáilte CLG, the Lisdoonvarna and Rooska Spa Wells Trust, the Lisdoonvarna Historical Society and the local Tidy Towns group, as well as many local businesses and individuals who have been engaged in community consultation meetings since August. The plan is an action under the Clare Heritage Plan 2017-2023 and the Clare County Development Plan 2017-2023 and was funded by the Heritage Council and Clare County Council.