Organisers of Ballina 2023 promised a big year for the town as it celebrates its 300th anniversary this year with a busy calendar of events and activities, and just one month in, the North Mayo town is very much on the map with a host of plans and dreams to build on its success to date.
At this week's Culture, Education, Heritage and Corporate Affairs SPC held in Aras an Chondae, plans to expand and grow the Jackie Clarke Collection, that was dedicated to Ballina town by the family of the late historical artefacts collector, Jackie Clarke, alongside the development of the Mary Robinson Centre, were cited as part of the strategy to keep the town growing.
Mayo County Council is also supporting the drive, with Martina Hughes, Head of Corporate Development and Communications, revealing that Mayo Day 2023 - taking place on the May Bank Holiday weekend - will this year have its base in Ballina, with a launch in two weeks time; while today (Friday ), the annual Ladies Mini Marathon, is also being launched in Ballina.
During a discussion on the future for the Jackie Clarke Collection, SPC members were informed that visitor numbers prior to Covid had reached 40,000 per annum - but this had dropped to 27,000 last year. The popular tourist attraction was the subject of a visit by French Ambassador to Ireland, Vincent Guerend, last week, while a new video of 'inspirational Ballina woman', Cllr Annie May Reape, has also just been posted on its website in honour of St Brigid's Day on Feb 1 last.
The need to appoint an archivist for the collection was highlighted at the meeting, with SPC member Tony Deffley also saying they needed to develop a vision for the future of the centre and suggesting other items be added to it by the council.
Acknowledging the impact of covid, Director of Services Joanne Grehan said: "It has been a tough few years at the Jackie Clarke Collection but as Austin (Vaughan ) said, it is going from strength to strength and the appointment of a new manager will see its future stabilised. That will progress as will the appointment of an archivist. I am happy to confirm it is definitely in the schedule of works for a new manager this year."
She added that the suggestion to do a review on the amenity now that it is ten years in existence, is valid, adding: "We would like to review it now and this group will be consulted in terms of rolling out a new work programme for the Jackie Clarke Collection. We have to be mindful about what we add, as this was set up for a very specific reason by the Clarke family and also, there is only so much space in it. This group will feed into the review and we will bring the first draft to look into the next 10 years before you. It would be great to see the numbers grow because it is in a central location and there is great potential to magnetise more visitors to the region in partnership with other attractions growing around it. Also, with Failte Ireland's new development plan for the North Mayo Visitor Experience Development Plan, Jackie Clarke will also feed centrally into that and be part of the consultation process."
Cllr Gerry Coyle said he could not praise the Jackie Clarke centre and the staff there enough, adding: "The people of mayo don’t even realise what is there or the history there; and with the Mary Robinson Centre in Ballina it will be huge for North Mayo. During the year of the centenary celebrations we were looking back at our past and it is phenomenal what is going on there in that regard. Whatever help we can give, we must. It needs to be promoted more, with a bit more advertising and for students of history to be encouraged to go there."
SPC Chair Cllr Michael Burke said he had been to the centre a number of times and it was a fabulous place to visit. He added: "We do need a manager and an archivist is very important, because it is stuff you need to keep moving, to freshen it up for visitors and return visitors. We would like the numbers visiting to be higher and if we can help with the business side of it we will."
Cllr Austin Francis O'Malley suggested that the collection be promoted to the diaspora overseas, which Director of Services Joanne Grehan said was a good suggestion that would be taken on board.