A DOUBLING of visitor numbers to Newcastle West’s medieval Desmond castle and banquet hall this summer proves that it is slowly becoming a major part of the West Limerick tourism network, locals believe.
According to recently released figures, in excess of 8,500 people visited the castle during its three month opening period this summer, more than double the 4,290 figure from 2012. The surge in visitors has given encouragement to the local volunteers and business people who have actively been working to improve the castle’s visibility since the Office of Public Works (OPW) completed a multi-million euro restoration of the building.
Peter Byrne, chairman of the local castle committee, welcomed the record visitor numbers but insisted that the recent gains need to be built on.
“We’re very happy. But we want to improve a few things like parking and visibility. If you pass the castle today, you don’t even know it’s there. We want to drive it a bit more.”
Local Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan said that the increased visitor numbers were vindication of recent efforts by the OPW and Minister of State Brian Hayes.
“While visitor numbers have doubled in twelve months it is clear locally that there are still huge numbers of people here in West Limerick who haven’t visited the site and it is important for OPW to look at ways of getting local people to visit the historical sites.
“[Mr Hayes] has seen at first hand the work that OPW has completed and the work that is being carried out and the co-operation between his office and local communities across Limerick.”
While the castle is only open to tourists from the end of the May until the start of September, in recent years it has hosted a number of once-off events, from fashion shows to food fairs.
Mr Byrne said that the OPW’s castle site manager, Padraig O’Rourke, is “very eager to entice people to visit the castle” and is “very helpful” in dealing with local community groups.
Mr Byrne said that opening up the castle is an incremental process, but it is already starting to reap dividends. “If you look at Westfest this year, they had the fireworks at the end coming from the castle. That was fantastic.”