Government funding of almost €4 million for the Inis Cealtra (Holy Island) Visitor Experience has cleared the way for an ambitious tourism and regeneration project to develop Mountshannon and the broader East Clare area as any international visitor destination.
A €3,906,252 allocation from the latest round of the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund (RRDF) will transform the Old Rectory in Mountshannon into the gateway to one of the most significant ecclesiastical sites in Ireland.
Having taken 41 acres on the island into public ownership in 2015, Clare County Council this year acquired the Old Rectory building overlooking Mountshannon Harbour, Scarriff Bay and Lough Derg. A detailed design of the proposed transformation into a mainland visitor centre is currently underway following extensive public consultation and will interpret the monastic site and its surrounds.
Once completed in 2024, the visitor centre building will comprise a reception area, three exhibition areas interpreting stories from Mountshannon and the island of Inis Cealtra, as well as a revitalised rectory garden. Boat trips will initially focus on bringing visitors around the island, while trips to the island are part of the future plans for the overall experience.
Cllr Tony O’Brien, Cathaoirleach, Clare County Council, said: “This is a landmark project for East Clare that greatly adds to the overall tourism offering in the county. The east of the county is sometimes overlooked by visitors to Clare due to the absence of a headline visitor attraction. The benefits accrued for the entire Mid-West region from the development of the Lough Derg Blueway will be significantly complemented by this visitor project and I look forward to its completion.”
Pat Dowling, Chief Executive, Clare County Council, stated: “We are very grateful to Government for the support to complete this project as it will add significantly to the suite of tourism attractions in County Clare. The project presents significant benefits to the local community and the wider economy, and will also introduce one of Ireland’s most important and historically significant ecclesiastical sites to a wider national and international audience.”
“Great credit for delivering this project must go to the staff of Clare County Council and the local community who have worked closely in devising a project that delivers a range of social and economic benefits to Mountshannon and East Clare.”
Mr. Dowling added: “I must also acknowledge my colleagues in the local authorities of Galway and Tipperary, as well as Fáilte Ireland and Waterways Ireland, because this project will be a key catalyst within both the Shannon Tourism Masterplan and Lough Derg Destination Experience Development Plan.”
Leonard Cleary, Director of Rural Development, Clare County Council, said: “The success of the Inis Cealtra Visitor Experience will continue to be based on a collaborative working relationship involving the Local Authority, the community of East Clare, and a range of State agencies.
“Clare County Council looks forward to progressing this phase of the Inis Cealtra Visitor Experience through our collaborative partnership with the Department, the local community and Elected Members, Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands (Fáilte Ireland), Waterways Ireland, the OPW, the National Monuments Service and National Parks and Wildlife Service. A continuation of this excellent working relationship will be key to progressing the next phase of the development, including the upgrade to Mountshannon Harbour, mooring facilities on the island, and the upgrade of walkways on the ecclesiastical site.”
Deirdre O’Shea, Head of Tourism, Clare County Council, said: “The Inis Cealtra Visitor Experience represents an exciting milestone for the project after three years of detailed preparatory work by our Tourism Department.”
“Holy Island is one of the most historically important ecclesiastical sites in Ireland and has important links to the last High King of Ireland, Brian Ború.”
Ms. O’Shea added: “The tourism potential around this attraction is significant and Clare County Council looks forward to progressing the visitor centre project, and future phases of the project, in a way that sustainably manages the successful delivery of a landmark visitor attraction in East Clare. The project will complement ongoing work within the Tourism Department of Clare County Council and the wider sector to establish and promote Clare as a year-round destination.”
Referred to locally as the ‘Jewel of the Lough’, Inis Cealtra continues to be used today 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.
The consultancy team appointed by Clare County Council to progress the project comprises McCullough Mulvin Architects, Tandem Partners Ltd. (interpretation/visitor experience designers), Tobin Consulting Engineers (quantity surveyors/project managers), Design Works (branding & design consultants), Amion (economics & financial management consultancy) and Cognisense Ltd.
Joan Tarmey, Tourism Officer, Clare County Council, and Project Coordinator for this extensive project, said: “The award-winning consultancy team has already commenced a detailed design of the proposed transformation of the Old Rectory building in Mountshannon into a mainland visitor centre, which will interpret the monastic site and its surrounds. The design team are doing a superb job and we all look forward to works commencing on site in 2023”.
“I want to also acknowledge the huge support from the local community for this project to date and look forward to a continued successful working relationship.”
Local Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley said: “As a proud Mountshannon man I’m delighted to see this significant funding finally confirmed after hard work on this project for a number of years. It’s a massive opportunity to develop Mountshannon as a tourism destination by taking advantage of its proximity to Inis Cealtra. Holy Island is one of the most significant ecclesiastical sites in Ireland and this project will be a great amenity for locals and tourists.”
“Fianna Fáil has always supported rural communities and this development is proof of this Government supporting a better future for rural Ireland,” Senator Dooley added.
Independent Clare TD Michael McNamara has welcomed the news saying the development will help put Lough Derg back on the Clare tourism map.
“Since the closure of the youth hostel in Mountshannon, the village and East Clare more broadly has fallen far behind the growth in tourism on Clare’s west coast,” stated Deputy McNamara. “A new project, centred on the iconic Inis Cealtra / Holy Island and led by Clare County Council, will help put East Clare and Lough Derg back on the tourism map.”
He continued, “Holy Island is very well known across East Clare but there is little promotion of the attraction beyond that. I am delighted that this is about to change due to the actions taken by Clare County Council over the years now being recognised by government with funding allocated for the visitor project in Mountshannon.”
Meanwhile, Deputy McNamara has hailed the provision of funding totalling €3.5m under the Department’s Rural Regeneration and Development Fund for the redevelopment of a vacant building on the marina in Kilrush into a new Maritime Training Centre.
“I have raised this project repeatedly with the Minister for Rural and Community Development and her officials, and I have engaged locally with Cllr Ian Lynch and Clare County Council project officer Brian McCarthy,” stated Deputy McNamara. “This project will establish Kilrush and West Clare as an important maritime centre on the west coast of Ireland. I want to congratulate local Elected Members, the staff of the local authority and Enterprise Ireland for their work in bringing this project closer to fruition.”
Fine Gael TD for Clare Joe Carey, “It will build on a range of tourism infrastructure including the Lough Derg Blueway, the Lough Derg Amenity Trail and the Looped Walk Project to unlock the potential for sustainable growth in the Clare tourism sector, as well as the conservation and promotion of the county’s rich heritage,” he explained.
Clare County Council estimates that the Inis Cealtra (Holy Island) Visitor Experience has the potential to sustain 12 full-time equivalent jobs and create an additional 116 jobs through stimulated employment.
From a current base of a few hundred visitors a year, the estimates are for 20,000 visitors in the first year of operation, rising to 75,000 after five years generating an annual spend of €4.3 million.
The RRDF allocation will go towards the cost of repurposing the Old Rectory for visitor facilities; acquiring land for parking; delivering upgraded wastewater treatment in Mountshannon and providing upgraded public realm spaces in and around the village.
Clare County Council has committed to invest a further €1 million to the project and this, along with almost €4 million from the RRDF, represents a considerable vote of confidence in the project and its long-term viability. The current round of funding is the latest in a series of strategic investments aimed at upgrading the East Clare tourism offering as a means of creating and sustaining employment in the area.