Minister heralds a new dawn at Limerick heritage site

Aine Fitzgerald

Reporter:

Aine Fitzgerald

Tom Flynn, Aine Barry, Minister Paschal Donohoe, Mary Doody, Lough Gur Heritage Centre, manager, Kate Harrold, Tom Cassidy, conservation officer, Limerick City and County Council, Cllr Bill O'Donnell, and Josephine Cotter Coughlan, Limerick City and County Council. Picture: Keith Wiseman
THE Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe, has officially re-opened the Lough Gur Heritage Centre which has seen visitor numbers more than double since undergoing refurbishment works.

THE Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe, has officially re-opened the Lough Gur Heritage Centre which has seen visitor numbers more than double since undergoing refurbishment works.

Over 35 guests directly involved with the refurbishment project were invited to celebrate the €500,000 transformation, at the official unveiling ceremony on Monday afternoon.

The heritage centre showcases the archaeology, history, folklore and environmental history of the historic area through a modern framework of exhibits.

In his address, Minister Donohoe referred to the exhibition which highlights the reasons why Neolithic people, the first settlers in Lough Gur, chose the area as a location to live in.

“The plentiful supply of resources during Neolithic times made Lough Gur a very desirable place to live in over 6,000 years ago,” he stated.

“We can clearly see today, on this glorious afternoon, why people have travelled in great numbers over the last year in particular to see the wonderful area of Lough Gur.

“The three Ps are crucial when developing a successful tourist attraction – policy, place and people. Lough Gur with the support of the councillors and government have a clear support from the policy makers while the impact by the people and the extreme beauty of the place have been the key factors for the growing success of the Lough Gur Heritage Centre.”

The planned restocking of the lake by IASC Lough Gur in 2015 was highlighted by the minister as a “great addition to the services already on offer”.

Minister Donohoe thanked the local community for their contribution to tourism within the region before officially re-opening the newly refurbished Lough Gur Heritage Centre. Guests at the event were welcomed by heritage centre manager Kate Harrold while chairman Tom Flynn thanked everyone who assisted with the project.

Fr Liam Holmes and Fr Seán Fennelly were invited to bless the heritage centre before the ceremony was brought to a close.

The local community, led by one of the original founders of Lough Gur Development, Michael Quinlan, officially unveiled a plaque in honour of all people past and present who have brought Lough Gur to where it is today.

The heritage centre was originally opened by Shannon Heritage in 1981 and was managed as a tourism facility by the umbrella body for 30 years.

In 2011 Lough Gur Development Co-operative Society Ltd – a non-profit organisation comprised of local residents - with the agreement of Limerick County Council took over management of the centre to improve and promote the Lough Gur area.

In consultation with all the interested stakeholders in Lough Gur, LGD went about a redesign and upgrade process aimed at improving the visitor experience and enhancing the Lough Gur message.

The long list of work undertaken included a complete overhaul of the building interior, the re-thatching of both roofs and the extensive redesign and creation of a new exhibition detailing 6,000 years of habitation at Lough Gur.

The centre now boasts a full display summarising 6,000 years of habitation at Lough Gur. There are several touch screen displays, audio guides and listening points. For the budding archaeologist, there is an interactive dig, and a dressing up corner for those who wish to dress as our predecessors one did. This has become one of the most popular elements within the centre. The newly refurbished centre caters for all ages and abilities and for the first time the building is fully wheelchair accessible.

Self-guided tours have been designed to allow the independent traveller to saunter at an easy pace around the lake.

Maps and trail information are freely available in the heritage centre reception area. On completing a walk, many return to linger in the exhibition space and soak up the rich legacy that Lough Gur has inherited. There is also an option to book local guides trained by Michael Quinlan who has dedicated a lifetime to studying, preserving and promoting the history and folklore of Lough Gur.

Since opening after refurbishment works, the visitor numbers have doubled from 15,000 to 35,000 in the first year and numbers continue to grow.

Along with the newly refurbished heritage centre, the local fishing group IASC Lough Gur will restock the lake in 2015 with over 4,000 brown trout with agreement from the local authority.

Lough Gur is one of Ireland’s most important archaeological sites in the country and is home to Ireland’s largest stone circle. It is aligned to the summer and winter solstice.

There are over 1,000 field monuments within a 5km radius.

The heritage centre was transferred from Shannon Heritage to the local Lough Gur community in 2011. The centre is open 12 months of the year from Monday to Sunday inclusive.

Admission rates, opening hours and additional information can be found on www.loughgur.com or by phoning the heritage centre directly on 061 385186.