Major new initiative announced for Offaly's top tourist site
A major new initiative has been announced for Offaly's top tourist attraction
Minister of State for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran TD, has revealed that the OPW will shortly undertake a comprehensive new study at Clonmacnoise in partnership with Fáilte Ireland and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
According to the Minister, the study has the potential to 'revolutionise' the way visitors are managed at the famous 6th century monastic site in Co. Offaly and will directly help to protect the site for years to come.
Clonmacnoise currently receives between 155,000 and 170,000 visitors each year through a Visitor Centre that was designed in the early 1990’s to ideally handle a load of approximately 80,000.
Currently therefore, the site is experiencing double its designed load and significant visitor congestion at peak times which this is imposing a strain on the site and the facilities there.
The OPW Heritage Service, who are responsible for maintaining the site and managing the visitor operation there say that while the ancient fabric of the Monuments themselves are not being affected, it has been quite clear for some time that the modern facilities within the Visitor Centre building in particular are struggling to cope with the demand especially on busy days during the summer when visitor volumes are at their highest.
The proposed study will examine a number of areas of the current visitor management operation with a view to suggesting improvements. These will include Visitor transit options to the site; Carrying capacity study; Modern infrastructure assessment (carparking, toilets, café facilities etc); Advance booking and ticketing arrangement; Interpretation and Exhibition provision; Catering for foreign language needs; Engaging better with the local tourism economy.
“Clonmacnoise is a hugely important historical and archaeological complex,” the Minister said. “We have to make sure that it continues to be protected for future generations. The work we are planning will help to do that by analysing how we handle the large volume of visitors to the site and by making sure that we adopt the right approach to managing that volume in future in ways that puts the conservation and protection of the ecclesiastical site at the heart of improving the experience visitors have when they come to us."
The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which has the key formal role for heritage policy and protection of National Monuments such as Clonmacnoise in partnership with the OPW, are ensuring that visitors are managed in a sustainable way that protects the site’s unique historic value.
“As a local public representative from the Athlone area, I am acutely conscious of how important Clonmacnoise is both to the people of the area and to local business in places like Shannonbridge” the Minister said today.
“The community of the area is very proud of the site which is a heritage emblem for the midlands and understands very well how important it is in providing a historic sense of place for the region and also a tourism resource. We want to make sure it is well protected and guarded for the future and that the visitor experience is the best it can be, ensuring that the economic benefit that flows from it in terms of the tourists it brings to the area is not just maintained, but improved. Given that the ancient site is so important to local towns and villages in the area, I will be particularly committed to ensuring that the local tourism economy benefits from a new approach. In addition, I will be asking that the project examines closely the potential from other tourism projects nearby, including exploiting the local links that may be created for Clonmacnoise to Shannonbridge and also to Athlone on the Dublin / Galway Greenway. ”
Fáílte Ireland is centrally involved with this project as a strategic partner of the OPW and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Orla Carroll, Director of Product Development at Fáilte Ireland added: “Clonmacnoise is a hugely important tourist attraction and extremely popular with visitors. We are extremely pleased to be jointly funding and undertaking this masterplan study with our strategic partners the OPW and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. We are already conducting important masterplan studies at sites across the country so we are pleased to expand this work to Clonmacnoise.”
The initiative announced today by the Minister will see the OPW going out to tender shortly for expert Consultants to help develop a new Masterplan for the very important monastic site. This Masterplan will address all aspects of the site. Including its long-term conservation and how visitors can continue to access it sustainably and how new technologies such as Online booking and interpretation can help to ensure that tourists and other visitors can continue to enjoy the unique Clonmacnoise experience.
“It has been very clear in recent years” the Minister said today, “that the peak summer visitor period is when we sometimes struggle to accommodate our visitors. Our key infrastructure such as parking and toilets in particular are under strain at peak times and this is detracting from the quality of the visit for some people. We want to continue to ensure that a trip to Clonmacnoise remains a wonderful day out for visitors and that they have access to proper modern facilities that are fit for purpose in this important ancient site. As Minister for the OPW, I have pioneered developments in firstly admitting all children under 12 for free to Heritage sites under the OPW and last year in also admitting all people with Disabilities and their carers on a complimentary basis. These have been hugely successful in drawing people in to enjoy our Heritage and we want to make sure that we can continue to do that in the best way possible.”
The Minister also said that he was very conscious of the work being undertaken currently by other agencies in relation to the Shannon waterway and said that this is a particularly opportune time to plan for the future of Clonmacnoise when so much emphasis is being put on the tourism possibilities of the Shannon, the creation of needed additional moorings at Shannonbridge and the potential for revival of the Clonmacnoise “Bog Train.”
“The Hidden Heartlands brand that has recently been developed by Fáilte Ireland represents a great opportunity for the Midlands” Mr. Moran said, “and Clonmacnoise is uniquely placed between it and the Ireland’s Ancient East region, so we want to make sure that we are ready to reap the rich tourism possibilities for the surrounding area that its riverside location brings. However, we must also remember that the site is a very historic place and whatever we do there has to be matched with the best possible conservation standards.”