Seanad Éireann - Volume 189 - 27 May, 2008

Architectural Heritage.

  An Cathaoirleach: I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Mansergh, and wish him well.

  Senator Paul Coghlan: I am delighted to welcome the Minister of State to hear his response on this issue because it may be as close to his heart as it is to mine. As he is aware, I have been vocal regarding Killarney House for many years, both inside this House and in County Kerry. I look forward to hearing his response that I hope will represent progress and that something will happen.

The Minister of State undoubtedly is aware that costs are increasing and accruing continually. The cost of storing the antique furniture alone is considerable. There also are not inconsiderable heating and security costs. Essentially, Killarney House is an important historic property of national interest and absolutely nothing is accruing to the State. This matter sadly has been allowed to languish for years. As a recent editorial in The Irish Times stated:

Successive Ministers promised to preserve the integrity and character of Killarney House. They failed. Basic damp-proofing measures were taken, but the fabric has been allowed to decay. As a proud people, we should at least respect our heritage and the generosity of benefactors.

5 o’clock

Speaking of the benefactors, I refer to both the late great John McShain and the Earls of Kenmare before him. For years it was the home of Lord Castlerosse and his father, the sixth or seventh earl. They lived there from 1913 until approximately 1953. Thereafter, John McShain and his family lived in the house for 40 years. They brought to it much of its character and many individual fine pieces which, as noted previously, are in storage. This is tragic because a fine plan was proposed by all the Killarney interests represented on the national park liaison committee. I understand it was intended to house an interpretative centre for Killarney National Park. It was also intended to dedicate a room to John McShain, the man who built Washington DC. He carried out a rejig of the White House and built the Pentagon and many other famous buildings in the city. In Ireland he was of great assistance to the horse racing industry and won many famous races with horses he had in training with the former trainer, Vincent O’Brien.

Both John McShain and the Browne family, as represented by the Earls of Kenmare and Lord Castlerosse, were very good to Killarney. I understand the intention was to dedicate one room in the house to the McShain family and another to the Browne family, that is, Lord [1017]Castlerosse and the Earls of Kenmare. The house has the advantage of being in the heart of Killarney town while remaining within the national park and it was intended to be a tremendous tourism project which people could visit in the evening, having toured the Ring of Kerry or visited other sights during the day. Alternatively, they could visit in the morning before going on tour. It would have been highly central. Moreover, it was intended to refer to our early Christian heritage in the chapel with a display and other works.

Everyone is highly enthusiastic about this proposal. Moreover, the national tourism development authority, namely, Fáilte Ireland, has allocated approximately €137 million to fund cultural projects. This would be an ideal project. I know it has the goodwill of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, because I have discussed it with him previously. More recently, our colleague in the other House, Deputy Healy-Rae, as part of his support for the Government, obtained funding that, presumably, has yet to be spent. I look forward to the Minister of State telling me when the work will commence, what it will involve and whether he thinks it will restore the house to a condition in which it can be reopened to the public, accommodate various displays and house the antique furniture that is being stored at great cost. I look forward to that day, which I hope is not far away.

  Deputy Martin Mansergh: Nothing gives me greater pleasure than coming back into this House to respond on a Kerry matter dear to the heart of my good friend and former colleague, Senator Paul Coghlan. I am sure the Senator will be familiar with the following lines.

Beauty wanders everywhere, footprints leaves on many strands but her home is surely there. Angels fold their wings and rest in that Eden of the west. Beauty’s home, Killarney. Heaven’s reflex, Killarney.

The Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism, one of the Departments to which I am assigned, is making its home there.

I thank Senator Coghlan for giving me the opportunity to discuss this important issue in the House. The original Killarney House was located at Knockreer but was destroyed by fire in 1913. The current Killarney House, which dates from 1915 approximately, was previously part of the stable wing of a much larger mansion, built around 1720. In 1881 the Kenmare family moved from this 1720 mansion to a newly built Victorian mansion on a site at Knockreer and the 1720 mansion was demolished, although the stable wing was left intact. The Victorian mansion at Knockreer was accidentally destroyed by fire in 1913 and it was decided to convert the stable wing of the 1720 mansion for residential use, possibly under the direction of Sir Edwin Lutyens and this is the property now known today as Killarney House, which measures approximately 1,254 sq. m. in floor area.

The current Killarney House was the seat of the Kenmare family until 1956, when Mrs. Beatrice Grosvenor, the niece of the seventh and last Earl of Kenmare, who died in 1952, sold the house and much of Kenmare estate, to an American syndicate, which in turn sold the property to an Irish-American philanthropist, Mr. John McShain. In 1978 Mr. McShain sold Killarney house and the greater part of the estate to the State for a sum well below market value at the time having been assured that the house and estate would be incorporated into Killarney National Park. Mr. and Mrs. McShain reserved the house and surrounding 52 acres to their use for their lifetime. Mr. McShain died in 1989 and Mrs. McShain lived in the house until her death in 1998, when the house and surrounding 52 acres reverted to the State.

In recent years the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has funded essential works to avoid any deterioration to the fabric of the building, including works to prevent dampness, the provision of dehumidifiers in all the main rooms on the ground floor [1018]and other important trench and draining works. In addition, the gates and railings of the house have been restored, a security system has been installed and heating pipes and radiators have been upgraded. Furthermore, in 2007 the gate lodge at Killarney House was renovated for use as an assembly and information point for walking tours, at a cost of €250,000. The lawns and flowerbeds at the house are regularly maintained. Staff are employed to cut the lawns, trim hedges, plant and maintain flowerbeds, collect litter and carry out small maintenance jobs.

There have been a number of proposals made over the years regarding the future restoration, use and management of Killarney House. Indeed, the stated intention for Killarney House in the current management plan for Killarney National Park is to preserve and present its integrity and character both internally and externally and to provide for visitor access to certain parts as appropriate. The Office of Public Works has commissioned detailed specialist surveys of Killarney House which have made it clear that major infrastructural works are needed before the house can be opened up to the public.

Taking everything into account, the way forward is the setting up of a steering group under the auspices of the Office of Public Works together with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to determine a programme of remedial works to maintain the fabric of Killarney House. This process has commenced. The group will also address the definitive future use and development of Killarney House and source capital funding for the major investment that will be required to give effect to such proposals. As part of the process there will be full consultation with and involvement of both local and national stakeholders in the development of plans for the use of Killarney House.

I will no doubt visit Killarney in the not too distant future and I will make it my business to visit Killarney House. I will inform Senator Coghlan of when I am coming and he may, perhaps, tour it with me.

  Senator Paul Coghlan: I appreciate the Minister of State’s invitation and will take him up on it. I also welcome the steering group but I am disappointed that nothing in his reply said anything of the moneys which were not to be huge and which I understood had been allocated through the Office of Public Works to Deputy Healy-Rae by arrangement with the former Taoiseach. The Minister of State’s reply mentioned talks about talks about further talks and we have had this for too long. Killarney House has deteriorated and is in a shocking state.

Notwithstanding this, I look forward to visiting Killarney House with the Minister of State. Perhaps that visit might kick-start something more serious than what was implied in his reply.

  Deputy Martin Mansergh: I will clarify the Senator’s point on resources that were allegedly promised. I will communicate with him whether there is or is not substance to this.

  The Seanad adjourned at 5.20 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 28 May 2008.