Tourism Boost As Durrow High Cross Public Access Secured
Thursday, 5 April 2012
TOURISM in the Tullamore area received another major boost this week with the announcement that public access has been secured to the ancient monastic site and High Cross at Durrow Abbey for the summer season.
Minister for State with Special Responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Brian Hayes TD, will officially announce the summer season opening for the Durrow Abbey site at a special ceremony on the site at 2.00 pm on April 20th next.
'This is a very significant tourism announcement for Offaly and the entire Midlands region,' said Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, who was instrumental in inviting Minister Hayes to visit a number of OPW sites in Offaly - including Durrow Abbey - last September.
Since then, the Laois/Offaly Deputy has been working in close co-operation with the Durrow Abbey Action Committee, Minister Hayes' office and Failte Ireland with a view to restoring public access to this important monastic site and providing a Visitors Centre.
The news follows hot on the heels of last week's announcement that distilling is to return to Tullamore with the development of a €35 million Tullamore Dew distillery by Grants.
A further tourism boost was secured last week also when the local contribution for the Tullamore Arts Centre was raised thereby allowing construction on the canal side development to commence in the near future.
Access to Durrow High Cross has been a long running saga and public admittance to the site had been blocked by the National Roads Authority [NRA] until major road safety works were carried out.
Up to €5 million was spent acquiring and carrying out restoration works at Durrow Abbey, the monastic site and world famous High Cross.
The road works required by the NRA would involve the widening of a long stretch of the N52, the removal and reinstatement of the railings and a wall which surround the site and the creation of a central right turning area.
However, according to local councillor, Tommy McKeigue, the traffic difficulties will be overcome in the short term by allowing bus parking in the nearby St Colmcille's Catholic church car park.
Cllr McKeigue said that co-operation from local people had been essential to securing the summer opening due to staff shortages and he urged all to work towards the permanent opening of the site.
'It is the first time visitors will be getting access to that site in over 30 years,' said Cllr McKeigue adding that links should also be developed with other monastic sites associated with St Colmcille at Derry and Iona in Scotland.
Meanwhile Deputy Corcoran Kennedy said she was 'absolutely thrilled that the OPW have taken the decision to provide summer season opening at Durrow Abbey and High Cross.'
'This is a very important and significant first step on the road to restoring this ancient monastic site to the very centre of the tourist attractions in the Midlands region' said Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, who has pledged to continue working with all the interested stakeholders to further develop this site over the coming months.
Offaly Fianna Fail TD Barry Cowen commented that the previous Government had invested greatly in the Durrow project and this move signalled the culmination of many years work by the OPW, the Durrow High Cross Committee and Fianna Fail public representatives.
Deputy Cowen stated: 'While I welcome this long overdue announcement, I am calling on Minister Hayes to forge ahead with the original plans for the Durrow High Cross area to be developed as a major tourist attraction in the midlands. I will be working with my Fianna Fail colleagues together with the local committee to have the project reach its full potential.'
He continued: 'I am calling on the Government to make available the necessary funds to renovate the Gate Lodge as a gift/coffee shop, necessary road works to be carried out and ample parking facilities to be made available.'
'Tourism is an area that is labour intensive and this announcement follows on from the recent news that Tullamore Dew is to once again be distilled here in Tullamore which is great news for employment in this region. The potential tourism market available to Durrow High Cross can match Clonmacnoise as a major attraction to both national and international visitors.'
Deputy Cowen said he also wished to commend the Durrow High Cross Committee for their outstanding work and said he looked forward to working with them in the future to help maximise Durrow's tourism potential".
The Chairman of Offaly County Council, Cllr Danny Owens pointed out that he had visited the site late last year where together with Minister Hayes he was given a proposed completion date for works to be carried out by the OPW.
'I welcome the opportunity that this decision gives the public to visit and view part of our monastic history and I will continue to call on the Government to complete the project in its entirety and upgrade the access roads, parking facilities and the Gate Lodge.'
'As Chairman of Offaly County Council I wish to commend the local Durrow High Cross Committee for their continued work in highlighting the historical value and potential for tourism in the area. This is great news for the local community and for tourism in Offaly and I look forward to working with the committee and relevant Authorities to see the completion of this entire project,' added Cllr Owens.
Cllr Declan Harvey also commended the work of the Durrow High Cross Committee with whom he has worked closely on this project.
He outlined: 'This will allow locals and tourists the opportunity to rightfully access this spectacular High Cross.'
Cllr Harvey also commended the OPW for the quality of their work in the renovation of the Abbey and transfer of the High Cross to its new position where it is now protected from the elements.
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