A comprehensive new study at Clonmacnoise aimed at revolutionising the manner in which visitors are managed at the famous sixth century monastic site in the Midlands, has been announced by Minister of State, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran.
Compiled by the OPW, in partnership with Fáilte Ireland and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the study will directly help to protect the site for years to come.
“Clonmacnoise is a hugely important historical and archaeological complex and 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,” Minister Moran stated.
Clonmacnoise currently receives between 155,000 and 170,000 visitors per annum through a Visitor Centre that was designed in the early 1990s to ideally handle approximately 80,000 in number.
Currently, 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.
“As a local public representative from Athlone, I am conscious of how important Clonmacnoise is both to the people of the area and to local business in places like Shannonbridge.
“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,” Minister Moran commented.
The initiative announced today by the Minister will see the OPW going out to tender for expert consultants to help develop a new masterplan for the monastic site. Addressing all aspects of the site, the masterplan will detail a long-term conservation, 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 that the peak summer visitor period is when we struggle to accommodate our visitors. 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 and in also admitting all people with disabilities and their carers on a complimentary basis. These have been hugely successful initiatives,” Minister Moran continued.
The Minister also said that he was very conscious of the work being undertaken currently by other agencies in relation to the Shannon waterway, noting it 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 and Clonmacnoise is uniquely placed. 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,” Minister Moran concluded.