*Pictured at the Old Rectory initial design team meeting in Mountshannon, County Clare, ahead of its redevelopment and extension as a visitor and interpretative centre for Inis Cealtra (Holy Island); left to right Michael Fitzgibbon, Councillor Joe Cooney Cathaoirleach Clare County Council, Joan Tarmey, Tourism Officer, Clare County Council and Valerie Mulvin, Mc Cullough Mulvin Architects. Photo Neil Hynes.

EAST CLARE’s biggest tourism project to be undertaken has moved a step closer to becoming a reality following the signing of a contract for the development of the Inis Cealtra (Holy Island) visitor centre in the heart of Mountshannon village.

Overlooking Mountshannon Harbour and Lough Derg, the Old Rectory is an historic period house dating from 1905 and is set to repurposed and extended into a visitor and interpretative centre for Inis Cealtra (Holy Island).

Clare County Council on Monday signed a contract with M. Fitzgibbon Contractors Ltd for the redevelopment of the visitor centre building, which, once completed next year (2024), will comprise of a revitalised exhibition area that interpret local stories and the island of Inis Cealtra, a reception area, an upstairs café and rectory garden.

The successful funding awarded for this project which includes the repurposing of the Old Rectory as well as waste-water optimisation works and public realm works at Mountshannon is €4,290,765 from the Department of Rural and Community Development as part of RRDF 1 Category funding, with an additional 20% match funding committed from Clare County Council.

With important links to the last High King of Ireland Brian Boru, Inis Cealtra is one of the most important historical and ecclesiastical sites in Ireland with additional links to other religious sites and heritage attractions, such as Tuamgraney and Craggaunowen. Still used as a burial ground, the ruins and buildings still standing on the island date back to the 7th century when the monastic site was established by St. Caimin. Buildings on the island include a 24-metre-high Round Tower, an Oratory, and several churches.

Having taken 41 acres on the island into public ownership in 2015, Clare County Council acquired the Old Rectory building in 2021. The Local Authority has confirmed that plans to enhance access to and interpretation on the island, including upgrades to island and mainland access, the introduction of wayfinding infrastructure and the provision of public car parking facilities as well as future proofing an expanded visitor centre. All of these plans will be submitted to An Bord Pleanála during the first half of 2024.

Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council, Cllr Joe Cooney (FG) commented, “This landmark visitor attraction will complement the Local Authority’s ongoing work to establish and promote all of Co Clare as an all-year round destination. The project has received enormous support from the local community due to the social and economic potential of the project for the village and wider East Clare area. The Tourism Department of Clare County Council and the design team have delivered a project plan that everyone in Mountshannon can be rightly proud of, and I look forward to the opening of this fantastic new visitor facility next year”.

Clare County Council Chief Executive Pat Dowling looks toward Inis Cealtra and Lough Derg from the Old Rectory in Mountshannon village, which is undergoing redevelopment to facilitate a visitor centre and interpretative building as part of the Old Rectory – Inis Cealtra Visitor Experience project. Photo Eamon Ward

Pat Dowling, Chief Executive of Clare County Council explained, “Having acquired the Island in 2015 and working closely with the Office of Public Works, it has been a priority of Clare County Council to deliver and fast track a Visitor Centre, which can interpret the island and environs. Government support from the Department of Rural and Community Development has enabled Clare County Council to proceed with this milestone tourism project for East Clare that will deliver significant benefits to Mountshannon and the wider economy and will add significantly to the county’s suite of tourism attractions”.

Dowling continued, “Clare County Council is proud of its track record of delivering infrastructure and initiatives that spread the economic benefit of the tourism economy to all parts of County Clare. Our ambition is to deliver an iconic visitor experience that raises the profile of the Lough Derg Region, which can sometimes be overlooked by visitors to Clare due to the absence of a headline visitor attraction and introducing one of Ireland’s most important and historically significant ecclesiastical sites to a national and international audience”.

Director of Tourism Development with Clare County Council, Leonard Cleary noted that the commencement of work on the Old Rectory followed three years of detailed preparatory work by the Local Authority’s Tourism Department. “Working with colleagues in neighbouring Local Authorities of Galway and Tipperary and with Waterways Ireland as well as Fáilte Ireland, we are confident this project will be a key catalyst project within both the Shannon Tourism Masterplan and Lough Derg Destination Experience Development Plan”.

Outlining the background to the project, Deirdre O’Shea, Clare County Council Head of Tourism, said “The County Clare Tourism Strategy 2030 sets out to support the sustainable development of Clare as a resilient destination that incorporates our trails, waterways and islands, our majestic seascapes and distinctive landscapes, our built heritage, beaches, and golf courses, and every town and village. It’s all about spreading the economic benefit of tourism and working with communities to ensure that visitors enjoy a rounded experience of what County Clare has to offer.”

“This project seeks to conserve Inis Cealtra as a significant historical, ecclesiastical, archaeological and cultural site; as well as expand its attractiveness as a sustainable tourism destination and, in so doing, address population decline and rural deprivation by providing social and economic benefits derived from tourism for East Clare and the wider Mid-West region,” concluded Ms. O’Shea.

The Old Rectory – Inis Cealtra Visitor Experience is a collaborative project involving Clare County Council, Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands (Fáilte Ireland), Waterways Ireland, the OPW and National Monuments Service and National Parks and Wildlife Service. The project has been advanced in recent months by a multi-disciplinary team including McCullough Mulvin Architects, Tobin Consulting Engineers (quantity surveyors/project managers), Tandem Partners Ltd (interpretation/visitor experience designers) as well as sub-consultants including Malachy Walsh and Partners (Civil & Structural, Mechanical & Electrical, Ecology), Mitchell and Associates (Landscape architects), Aegis Safety Management (Project Supervisor Design Process), Archaeological Projects Ltd (Project Archaeologist), McCutcheon Halley (Planning & Environment Consultant), Amion Consulting Ltd (Business Planning Services), Design Works (Brand strategy and identity), and Cognisense Ltd (Market research services).

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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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