OHAS seek full scale visitor centre at Durrow

Dear Editor, The good news is that the monastic site at Durrow was officially opened by OPW on April 30, 2012 by Minister Brian Hayes.

Dear Editor, The good news is that the monastic site at Durrow was officially opened by OPW on April 30, 2012 by Minister Brian Hayes.

Our thanks to Marcella Corcoran Kennedy TD and to Mr Tommy McKeigue who have both been working hard in securing this day. Thanks also to the Durrow High Cross committee chaired by Helen Bracken and to all others concerned.

The first meeting in the cause of getting Durrow opened to the public was held in 1990 as access was getting more difficult from the 1980’s.

Much has happened since then but the significant moment was 2003 when the state purchased the monastic site and some land adjoining. Our thanks to Mr Tom Parlon and the management at Offaly County Council who were key to this important step.

However the full potential of Durrow site has yet to be realised and hopefully what is now being considered is a joined up incremental approach.

Naturally many disappointments were incurred over the years. The most significant was the fact that the new road has not yet been built between Kilbeggan and Tullamore and this leads to difficulties with the promotion of access to the site.

The current opening must be seen as rather low-key and largely for locals as the tourism board will not market the site in the way that we would want until such time as adequate access facilities are available.

The steps appear to be as follows:-

1. Resolve the issue of safe access from the current road by such means as can be agreed with the NRA

2. Provide additional parking and bus parking for vehicles and buses required.

3. Restore the entrance lodge house and provide a visitor facility there and toilets etc.

4. Work in co-operation with Elizabeth Garrahy who has the lease from OPW of the house, to best promote the overall site.

5. In the longer term encourage the state to acquire lands held by others and which would include parts of the archaeology of the monastic site while additional adjoining land could be seen as providing potential for a national park adjoining Durrow monastery.

6. The uses for the house have yet to be resolved and funding is now a difficulty. OPW appear to not want the house, but it is an integral part of the overall tourism package.

7. The state has spent some €5m so far, now it is time to get a return on this investment for Ireland and the midlands. Cultural Tourism is back on the agenda and alongside the food industry is seen as showing off the country to best advantage in a way that respects what we have and proclaims that proudly to visitors.

8. Under the capable chairmanship of Marcella Corcoran Kennedy TD and with the co-operation the Government and National Agencies including the County Council, the NRA, OPW and the Irish Tourist Board much can be done to find a solution to the current difficulties and to make sure that the full value of Durrow Monastic Site is realized and “showcased”.

9. The Local Community and our Society will be able to help, but it is doubtful that we would be strong enough to provide guide services to the site and an insurance indemnity to the OPW. For now unfortunately the OPW are not seconding any staff to operate visitor facilities to the site so that it will depend on local voluntary efforts.

Without an organisation and training focus this will be difficult. The new partnership idea is now emanating from OPW born of economic necessity and have not been grounded in any real sharing of ideas and aspirations for historic sites around the country.

For effective day to day management of the OPW sites and presentation to visitors a more focused sharing between OPW and the local community is required.

While we have achieved a lot now it should not be forgotten that it has taken a lot of money and 21 years to get to the current situation.

Our wish must be to have a full scale visitor centre at Durrow with additional land around the monastery, the well and its historic traditions, the monastic site and graveyard, the house and the Norman motte beside it and why not consider a high quality forest park into the future. These things can be achieved and will mean that the area will get a proper share of visitors.

What is currently being considered is something akin to the Romanesque Church at Rahan where the key of the church was available at Corcoran’s shop for many years.

If Minister Deenihan is serious about including Durrow as a world heritage site then we have to be serious about how we go about presenting it to visitors.

Michael Byrne,

Offaly Historical & Archaeological Society,

Bury Quay,

Tullamore.