Tuesday, 11 December 2018
I welcome the Minister of State and acknowledge that it is the first time he has come to the House to address us.
In my Commencement matter I call on the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works to let us know whether he plans to develop Desmond Castle in Kinsale as an interpretative centre, given the national and international significance of the Battle of Kinsale in 1601. As he is very much aware, Kinsale has an awful lot going for it as a tourism town. It is the start of the Wild Atlantic Way and has many attractions, including good food. This morning I will focus on the historical element.
Kinsale dates back mainly to the battle of 1601, which was one of the most pivotal in Irish history. It had an international element because not only did Irish forces fight the Crown forces, over 1,000 Spanish soldiers were involved in the siege and battle. The Spanish Government is very much aware of the battle and has been proactive about it. We need to step into the space and have an interpretive centre in Kinsale in order that we can promote the battle site. The centre could become a focal point not alone for Irish and other European visitors but also international visitors from the entire world to learn what happened during the battle and siege.
Desmond Castle is a unique structure located in the centre of Kinsale. It has been closed since September 2017. It housed a wine museum which is now closed. The castle could be considered by the OPW for use as an interpretive centre, thus allowing us to embrace everything Kinsale has to offer. In many ways, it has been blessed by the hand of history and geography. We have an historical building that could be used as a very important interpretive centre which would benefit Kinsale and the entire western seaboard.
I put it to the Minister of State that we should put a plan in place and ask the OPW to consider using building in the way I have suggested. We must see what we can do to engage with the local chamber of commerce, as well as local businesses and tourism stakeholders, to put an interpretive centre in place. The initiative would have the effect of adding another string to our bow. We would also celebrate what really was one of the most significant battles in Irish history. As I said, there is a national element, but the international element must also be highlighted as there is a story to be told. We have the building and the story. All we need are the funds and drive by the Government to ensure we can deliver on the real potential of the castle and Kinsale.
I am grateful to the Senator for giving me the chance to come into the House to speak about this issue. Desmond Castle in Kinsale, or the French Prison as it is sometimes known as, is one of the heritage sites managed by the Office of Public Works, OPW, that perhaps are not well publicised and which deserve a little more attention. They are excellent historical properties in their own right. I am always anxious, as is the OPW, to bring what are called tier 2 and tier 3 sites such as this one more to the fore in order that more people can visit them. This matter is very important from the point of view of local tourism and employment creation.
As the Senator knows, Desmond Castle is closed for urgent conservation works and visitors have been unable to visit since it was shut at the end of last year. When it was open, it was one of 70 visitor sites operated by the OPW and attracted visitors in the region of about 10,000 per year. It was managed by the guide team from Charles Fort, the OPW's other large site located close by in Kinsale. Charles Fort is a major year-round visitor site that attracted over 100,000 visitors last year.
Desmond Castle which was declared a national monument in 1938 has had a varied history.This has led to a lack of clarity about the site at times, which really does not help in trying to market it to visitors. As mentioned, it is currently closed for urgent conservation works. However, it is not immediately apparent what the extent of the problem is or exactly how long it will take to fix it; therefore, we will have to wait for the full conservation architect and structural engineer assessments. While it is closed, the OPW is taking the opportunity to look again at the site and the approach to it in order that we might possibly reposition it as a visitor attraction and in future marketing. When the OPW looked at the issue previously, it met Kinsale Chamber of Commerce to discuss it. However, it struggled at the time to define the site clearly and not much progress was made. The closure offers another opportunity to look at the issue. I can tell the Senator that the theme of the 1601 rebellion has been suggested. Clearly, it will be a strong contender in the future presentation of the site. My officials shortly hope to present the future interpretation and presentation of Desmond Castle site as an application to Fáilte Ireland for funding under its capital investment programme. I know that the OPW has high hopes this approach will bear fruit. I am sure, however, that the strong views and suggestions the Senator has communicated to me this will form a part of the future plans for the castle.
The location of the historical site in the centre of town offers much potential. I put it to the Minister of State that his officials might come to Kinsale to meet the chamber of commerce again, as well as the local tourism agency, to engage in dialogue on how we can find a suitable home for the interpretative centre. As I said, everything in Kinsale dates back to the battle of 1601 which is of international significance. If the departmental officials could sit down with the people of Kinsale, it would go a long way towards trying to tell the story Kinsale needs to tell about the battle of 1601.
As I said, tier 2 and tier 3 sites are the hidden gems of the OPW that I am trying to bring to attention for the local community and also for tourism purposes. Once we get word back from the conservation architect, we will know the extent of the work that needs to be done. We are in a position to apply to Fáilte Ireland for funding. That is a positive message to bring back to the people of Kinsale today. Once I receive the report from the conservation architect, I will set up a meeting to enable my officials to engage with Kinsale Chamber of Commerce. It was my initiative to allow young people under the age of 16 years to visit all OPW heritage sites free of charge, with people with disabilities and their carers. I believe heritage sites will benefit tourism and help the country to blossom. I share the Senator's views in that regard.