Tuesday, 18 November 2014
I am grateful to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht for coming to the House to take this Adjournment Matter regarding Killarney House and gardens, to outline her plans for both and to say when they will open, how they will be managed and staffed and what they will showcase. I was hugely impressed when I visited them with the Minister, following her recent visit to Muckross House for its 50th anniversary. I think she was also very impressed by what we saw in Killarney House and the tremendous restoration work that has been undertaken there.
As we know, Killarney House is a stunning venue located in the town of Killarney and in the national park at the Golden Gates. It has the potential to contain a most comprehensive introduction to Killarney national park. The gardens are spread over 35 acres and will be a most attractive feature, being, if I may say so, Killarney's answer to St. Stephen's Green and a beautiful town park in our foremost national park.
The house has a rich, varied and interesting history, being as it was the home of the Earls of Kenmare and Lord Castlerosse. Much of our history in that part of the world is bound up with that family. It was also the home the John McShain, who was known as the man who built Washington, associated as he was with many of its outstanding buildings, including the White House and the Pentagon. He was also the man who gifted Ross Castle and Inisfallen Island to the nation. Inisfallen is where the annals were written and which are now located in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
For many years, I have campaigned to have this house restored to its former glory and I am, therefore, delighted, as is everybody in Killarney, Kerry and perhaps throughout the nation, that it is now on the verge of opening, following a huge €7.1 million investment which was provided through Fáilte Ireland's tourism capital investment programme and the Minister's Department. Our entire tourism industry is looking forward to the Minister opening the house and gardens for the 2015 tourism season.
Given the huge investment, adequate management and staffing will be necessary to complement both the house and gardens and to ensure they are displayed to their true potential. The Minster might say a word as to what she has in mind in terms of how they will be managed and staffed. Presumably, there will be a charge because maintenance, ongoing improvements and so on will be necessary from time to time, although given the huge initial investment, it will be a while before they arise. I understand there will be an audiovisual or a multipurpose space at the back, which will need care and attention for exhibitions, talks, lectures and so on. I look forward very much to the Minister's words of wisdom and her enlightening me further.
In 2011, my Department announced a major refurbishment programme for Killarney House and its ornamental grounds and gardens and it was a pleasure to visit Killarney House some weeks ago. This is a major project for my Department and involves collaboration with the Office of Public Works as project managers and Fáilte Ireland which has committed funding of €5.2 million under its tourism capital investment programme.
When I visited Killarney House on 29 September, following the Europark 2014 annual conference, which was held in Killarney and was a great success, I saw for myself the work that is currently underway. Work is underway on the final phase of restoration, refurbishment and new works for Killarney House. The refurbished house, in its historic and very beautiful setting, will function as a national park visitor centre and will provide an added attraction for visitors to the town.
The visitor centre project includes a newly built extension to house an interpretative centre for the national park, explaining its significance and importance to the town and region, including information on its major themes such as mountain, wood, water and the human impact on the environment. Also, as part of the new build element, the provision of exhibition space will be included to cater for temporary exhibitions, displays and cultural events. The original ornamental grounds and gardens immediately surrounding the house will also be restored, creating spectacular landscaped areas that will merge into the natural areas of the park and providing vistas linking the town to the scenery of mountain, wood and water.
Having walked the grounds with Senator Coghlan, I must say the restoration of the garden is very impressive. A phased approach to the restoration has been adopted and the first two phases were required to safeguard the structural integrity and to create the optimal layout of the house in preparation for the full restoration works. Phase one was completed in February 2012 and consisted of essential repair works, mainly to the external fabric of the building, including repairs to the roof, chimney stacks, flues, gutters, down-pipes, windows and drains. The external render was also removed to enable essential repairs to the stonework. Phase two was completed in February 2013 and consisted of the further repair and stabilisation of the main building and repointing of internal courtyard walls. The final phase of works to the house, which began in early January, is expected to be complete by early December 2014. The new-build extension and hard landscaping works - paths, paving, stonework, etc. - are progressing apace, with the soft landscaping works due to commence shortly. In addition, planning for the interpretation for both the house and its ornamental grounds and gardens is advancing with expressions of interest recently sought by way of competitive tender for the position of interpretative exhibition designer to the project.
As regards staffing arrangements for Killarney House, the Senator will be aware that my Department is currently subject to the moratorium on public service recruitment. However, the staffing requirements for the house, as with all other areas of my Department, will remain the subject of ongoing consideration in light of the overall business needs and within the pay framework approved for 2015. The restoration project will be substantially complete by end 2014 with a view to the site being fully operational and open to the public in 2015. I look forward to attending the opening.
I look forward to the Minister opening the house and gardens as soon as possible. I was delighted to note that there is Kerry marble on display among the paving and stonework to which the Minister referred.
There was no reference in the reply to the beautiful antique furniture owned by former occupants of the house being displayed in particular rooms, although I understand that is what is proposed. I understand rooms will be dedicated to the memory of the McShanes, the Kenmares and Lord Castleross. I would welcome a brief comment from the Minister in this regard.
Yes. While I am not familiar with the exact details, I imagine that will be the case. I do not see any problem with what the Senator suggests. The Department has a vision of what the house, its ornamental grounds and gardens will become. I am confident that we can optimise the potential of Killarney House as a top-class visitor and tourism centre, while respecting its status as a heritage property managed by the Department.
Killarney House is a fabulous project which, when complete, will be a tremendous facility for the people of the town and the wider area. As a result of the work taking place at the house and gardens, the wider area, otherwise quite derelict, is being cleaned up.