Concerns over funding and structural state of Shannon Heritage sites

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Bunratty Folk Park

COTTAGE roofs falling in and structures unsafe for public access were some of the issues raised when inspections were carried out at Bunratty Folk Park in advance of ownership being transferred from the Shannon Group to Clare County Council.

The inspections were part of process for the takeover of Shannon Heritage tourism sites, including Bunratty, Craggaunowen, Knappogue and King John’s Castles, to both Clare County and Limerick City and County Councils.

Speaking in the Dáil last week, Clare Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe said that when due diligence was carried out at the Bunratty Folk Park, “it revealed structural damage like cottage roofs falling in and the castle roof in poor repair, as well as umpteen things across the grounds of the folk park that could probably be deemed unsafe for people to go into.

“It is the same in Craggaunowen and Knappogue, where the beautiful walled gardens were not maintained and no longer exist,” he added.

Deputy Crowe had asked what supports would be put in place for the transition of tourism sites under the auspices of Shannon Heritage to local authorities.

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He was told by Minister of State for Tourism Hildegarde Naughton that the Shannon Group was engaging with the relevant Government Departments to ensure the smooth transfer of the sites.

“The Office of Public Works (OPW) has agreed to re-engage on its maintenance responsibilities and role in respect of the maintenance of Bunratty Castle and King John’s Castle. In preparation for undertaking this role, the OPW has been carrying out the necessary assessments of both buildings to inform the programme of works needed and the associated costs,” she explained.

“Bunratty Castle and King John’s Castle are currently open on a four-day-week basis until March and it is envisaged that those sites will reopen fully in April.

“With the removal of all Covid restrictions and the return of transatlantic flights to Shannon Airport this month, I am confident that visitor numbers to the sites will continue to grow.

Deputy Crowe said that since the decision was taken to transfer the Shannon Heritage sites from the Shannon Group last June, the properties have slowly been run into the ground.

“I appreciate the Minister of State’s commitment but we also need a commitment in terms of funding. We are not sure what line Ministry that is coming from,” he added.

I am concerned for the 140 full-time workers. The supply chain is colossal. Things have been run into the ground and due diligence has thrown up many issues. We need to know where the funding is coming from and when it is coming in order that the May takeover and the summer season can both be successful.

Limerick Green Party TD Brian Leddin also raised the issue of subvention for the sites as this was a new departure for Limerick City and County Council.

“The Department should support Limerick county council in every possible way as it hands over the iconic King John’s Castle in the heart of Limerick city, which has vast potential. That potential will not be realised unless significant and solid support is given by the Department in the context of the handover of the site,” he added.

Minister Naughton said that work and engagement was happening in relation to King John’s Castle.

“The OPW work is important in the context of ascertaining the costs involved. We want to ensure that these sites are maintained and preserved. Funding issues are part of the conversations happening at the moment to ensure a smooth transfer,” she said.