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Plans lodged for multi-million euro development at Bunratty Castle & Folk Park

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Shannon Heritage has lodged plans for a significant multi-million euro development at the internationally famous Bunratty Castle and Folk Park.

A site notice erected on Friday outlined details of the works to be carried out which comes as part of a €8 million investment in Bunratty which is being funded by Shannon Group plc and Fáilte Ireland. It is one of the largest projects of this nature ever planned in the country.

An Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) and Natura Impact Statement (NIS) have already been prepared and will be submitted to Clare County Council as the planning authority with the application. “The development will consist of a ten year planning permission for the following works to the existing theme park and all associated landscaping and site development works”.

There are ten different aspects to the application which include restoration works to Bunratty House, the construction of a butterfly house within the existing walled garden and the addition of four sculptures including one at the entrance to the park.

One of the most ground-breaking aspects of the project is that that it will deliver Ireland’s first ever 4-D 270 degree visitor experience with a building to be constructed specifically for this purpose. All 25 houses in the 19th century Folk Park and the 15th century Castle at the site will get an uplift. Motor home spaces are to be added to the car park which will see it’s canopy removed. A playground, boardwalk and picnic area are also included in the plans.

Works to and within the curtilage of Bunratty Castle include the installation of banners and glazed graphic panel at the battlements, a new pedestrian link and flagpoles plus the permanent raising of a new medieval style tent.

Commercial semi-State body, Shannon Heritage is part of the Shannon Group and is one of the oldest tourist operators in the country. It launched back in 1963 with the medieval banquet at Bunratty Castle, which it still runs today. Managing Director, Niall O’Callaghan highlighted that this forms part of their “ambitious growth strategy”.

“Today’s milestone at our flagship is a further step towards our goal to significantly increase visitors to our region and Ireland. It is a hugely exciting transformational project which will significantly enhance the storytelling, visitor interpretation and overall immersive experience of 800 years of history. Our staff and visitor feedback have been central to the vision of the ‘new’ Bunratty Castle and Folk Park and this, we believe, will create a major attraction of scale on the Wild Atlantic Way.”

O’Callaghan stated their goal is to “reaffirm Bunratty Castle and Folk Park status as a ‘must visit’ destination. As early innovators with the launch of the world-famous medieval banquet at Bunratty in 1963, this project will again position Shannon Heritage as true innovators in Irish tourism. The investment will result in a significant increase in visitors and the various elements of the project will appeal to a mass audience from the culturally curious to great escapers with authenticity at its core.”

The proposed development comes as Shannon Group maintain their focus on developing the Folk Park. Their stance was emphasised in February of this year following a request from Newmarket-on-Fergus councillor Pat McMahon (FF) for them to purchase the disused Shannon Shamrock Hotel and transform the hotel site which is adjacent to Bunratty Castle into a theme park. However a spokesperson insisted that Shannon Heritage did not own the Shamrock and had no intentions of buying it.

Deputy CEO of Shannon Group plc, Mary Considine noted of their development plans, “The implementation of our masterplan for Bunratty Castle and Folk Park will ensure that we give tourists even more reasons to visit our region and fly Shannon.”

In December 2016, Shannon Heritage unveiled a €1m facelift at the Castle and Folk Park which involved the development of a retail store and online brand, a café and new attractions around the Park and resulted in 30 extra jobs.

Shannon Heritage visitor numbers across it’s portfolio of attractions last year hit 924,718 a 4.3 percent increase on the previous year and double what the figures were in 2012. Despite not getting to avail of State funding, Shannon Heritage attractions generated 253,000 bed nights, supported 840 direct and indirect jobs and generated an economic value of €28 million.

Subject to planning approval and funding approval from Fáilte Ireland, it is anticipated work will commence in early 2020 with a view to completion in early 2021.

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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