Durrow Abbey planning deadline looms

DESPITE planning permission being granted for restoration works at Durrow Abbey almost five years ago, the site remains closed to the public and the planning permission is due to run out in just three weeks time.

DESPITE planning permission being granted for restoration works at Durrow Abbey almost five years ago, the site remains closed to the public and the planning permission is due to run out in just three weeks time.

Permission was granted by Offaly County Council to the OPW for the restoration of the existing gate lodge for use as a visitor reception building including the demolition of the brick extension to the rear and the provision of two new windows and one door on the rear elevation of the building in 2006.

Also for the erection of a new visitors facilities building providing public toilets and staff facilities, the provision of a public car park for 15 cars and one bus and a new exit onto the N52 road, the provision of a septic tank and an integrated constructed wetland for waste treatment.

Director of Services Declan Kirrane told Offaly County Council members at Monday’s monthly meeting that one of the conditions of the planning was that a new entrance from the main road had to be created. He said a lot of work had been put in by a lot of different sectors. He also said a meeting was held with the OPW a year ago to try and advance this project.

County Manager Pat Gallagher said the cost of a new junction was discussed, which the OPW said their budget could not meet at the time. He said the OPW were to provide technical specifications in relation to that as well as costing they had prepared. The council was to also look for other bodies from which to get the supplementary funding. However he had not received the costings or technical specifications from the OPW despite writing to them a number of times.

The issue was raised by Cllr Tommy McKeigue who called for a meeting with the appropriate minister to advance the Durrow High Cross project.

Cllr McKeigue said the abbey had been locked up for a number of years and it was the best possibility of increasing tourism in the county. He paid tribute to then Junior Minister for Finance Tom Parlon for his role in acquiring the land, church and cross. “Access is not freely available. The church and the High Cross are locked up,” he said.

Cllr McKeigue said there was more than one minister involved in this and everyone needed to work together to get it sorted.

Cllr Molly Buckley outlined that Minister for the Environment, Community & Local Government Phil Hogan said he would meet with councillors over the matter. “Durrow is a gem, it’s an under used tourist attraction,” she said, adding that there was not a lot to be done to allow it to be opened to the public.

“Durrow is a very important part of our history. People deserve our support on having this great asset open to the public,” said Cllr Johnny Butterfield.

Cllr McKeigue said Minister Hogan confirmed he would give it his full attention and that he should be invited to come and see the site.