Seanad Éireann - Volume 181 - 28 September, 2005

Architectural Heritage.

  Mr. Coghlan: I warmly welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy de Valera, to the House. No one is in a better position to discuss Muckross House than the Minister of State given her knowledge of that lovely place. I remember her visits to the House in her former capacity as Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands when she did a wonderful job assisting us, particularly on the occasion of the opening of our garden restaurant. Will she do me a favour and thank the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, for his visit to Killarney in July, in particular for signing the new partnership agreement with the trustees of Muckross House and for the launch of the management plan for Killarney National Park? I also thank the Minister, Deputy Roche, for signing the new partnership agreement with the trustees of Muckross House and launching the new management plan for Killarney National Park.

7 o’clock

I am pleased that it is intended to retain and preserve the integrity and character of Killarney House, both internally and externally, and to provide for visitor access to certain parts of it as appropriate, in particular the three main furnished reception rooms. To this end, most of the contents of the house have been acquired by the State, including some important furniture and art that dates back to the Earls of Kenmare. I thank the Minister for meeting Killarney Town Council and giving assurances to it, the people of Killarney and the wider public on Killarney House in the course of his visit in July.

I would like to hear an update on the situation today. I had concerns about the house given the unfortunate state into which it had fallen and the cost of the necessary restoration works, particularly when it has been in State ownership for so many years and because it is vital to put a halt to the decay. I look forward to hearing how the house will be preserved and the timeframe involved.

The Minister knows how important the house and grounds are to Killarney, being such a prominent feature located in the town itself. It has the potential to make a magnificent contribution to the tourism infrastructure of Killarney. The previous management plan, that was sadly not implemented, contained wonderful proposals for [78] the gardens that were specified in detailed accompanying maps. I hope and trust the gardens and grounds will not be neglected either and I look forward to hearing about this aspect. It is a pity that the expertise of the great botanist, Mr. Cormac Foley, was not availed of over the years. He is now with the Office of Public Works but I hope his expertise has not been lost because those were wonderful plans. I have not seen all of the management plan launched by the Minister in July but I would like to know if those plans have been carried forward.

  Miss de Valera: I thank Senator Coghlan for giving me the opportunity to address this matter on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche. The Minister enjoyed his visit to Muckross House and Killarney in July and I am aware of Senator Coghlan’s interest in and commitment to Muckross House and the heritage of County Kerry. I am also interested in Muckross House and I am pleased to see my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Roche, has continued that interest. I have enjoyed many visits to Kerry, not least to Muckross House, which were very pleasant. All of us who are interested in heritage know this house is dear to the heart of people of Kerry and it is also a national treasure.

Killarney House and the greater part of the accompanying estate was sold to the State in 1978 by the then owner, John McShain, for a sum well below market value, on the assurance that the house and estate would be incorporated into Killarney National Park. Mr. and Mrs. McShain reserved the house and surrounding 52 acres for their use for their lifetimes. Mr. McShain died in 1989 and Mrs. McShain lived in the house until her death in 1998, when use of the House reverted to the State. The house is currently the responsibility of the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department, which manages Killarney National Park.

There have already been a number of recent works to Killarney House. The golden gates and railings of the house have been restored, a security system has been installed and heating pipes and radiators have been upgraded. The lawns and garden at Killarney House are regularly maintained and small maintenance jobs are carried out on the house. The grounds of Killarney House are already a significant attraction in the town of Killarney.

Following recent consultations by the Department with the Office of Public Works, essential works are now under way to avoid any deterioration to the fabric of the building. These works are being funded by the Department and include the removal of plaster on the walls to prevent [79] dampness, the provision of dehumidifiers to all the main rooms on the ground floor and other incidental but highly important trench and draining works.

The future use of Killarney House and gardens must be considered within the context of the management plan for Killarney National Park, which was launched at Killarney House in July of this year and which has been endorsed by the Killarney National Park liaison committee. On that occasion it became clear that there is indeed great potential for the refurbishment of the house into a valuable facility for both the national park and the people of Killarney.

Under the Killarney National Park management plan, it is intended to retain and preserve the integrity and character of Killarney House both internally and externally and to provide for visitor access to certain parts as appropriate, particularly the three main furnished reception rooms. To this end, most of the contents of the house have been acquired by the Department, including some important pieces of furniture and art dating back to the Earls of Kenmare.

Detailed specialist surveys commissioned by the Office of Public Works have made it clear that significant infrastructural works are required. In particular, adequate plumbing, heating and electrical systems must be installed before the house can be opened to the public. The total cost of these works will be considerable. Planning permission for a change of use will also be necessary. A decision on the nature and extent of works to Killarney House will, therefore, depend on the future availability of capital funding, having regard to other demands on the Department’s capital budget.

The Minister’s ambition is to restore the ground floor of this house to its original state of splendour as a further visitor attraction for the town of Killarney and as a reference point for visitors to Killarney National Park. However, it is important to canvass the views of key stakeholders before deciding on the best way forward and, to this end, the Department has recently invited the trustees of Muckross House to come forward with their ideas for the house. The Department is also, of course, seeking the views of the Killarney National Park liaison committee itself on this matter. The Minister welcomed the opportunity to hear the views of Killarney town councillors when he met them in Killarney House in July.

The Minister is committed to ensuring that Killarney House fulfils its potential and has asked that the Department work closely with the Office of Public Works in deciding upon a phased work programme for the house, having regard to the [80] availability of resources and the views of key stakeholders.

  Mr. Coghlan: I thank the Minister of State for that response. I am pleased that the essential works are under way. Everyone in Killarney is agreed on the future usage of the house and hopefully the necessary funding can be provided in the Estimates for 2006.