The minister responsible for the OPW Brian Hayes has said planning permission will be lodged within the next two weeks to refurbish and open the ground floor of a Georgian mansion in north Cork which is hoped will one day rival Muckross House as a tourist attraction.
The minister made the announcement as he reopened the triumphal arch — built in 1820 to commemorate the coronation of George IV — at the entrance to Doneraile Park, and he later toured the adjoining stately home which once belonged to the St Leger family.
The OPW has already pumped €500,000 into the refurbishment of walls and bridges in the adjoining hundreds of acres of parkland and is now turning its attention to the house.
He said that a superintendent had been appointed to oversee the development of the park and house as part of a unique project which is also backed by a steering group consisting of Cork County Council, Ballyhoura Fáilte and Doneraile Development Association (DAA).
DAA spokesman Michael O’Sullivan said he was delighted by the news and thanked the OPW, in particular, for its ongoing assistance.
“We will have 150,000 people visit the park this year and we want to see that number double by 2016,” he said.
In January, the steering committee will start work on doing up the house’s adjoining 17th, 18th and 19th century gardens.
“With the assistance of Ballyhoura Fáilte we hope to have a team of up to 20 people, including horticulturists, working on them. We are also training guides to take people on guided walks of the park and explain its history,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
Mr Hayes said he saw no reason why Doneraile Park could not be the Cork version of Muckross House and eventually said he hoped it would cash in on coach tours.
Junior minister Sean Sherlock and TD Tom Barry said the recent contracting out of space at the house for commercial tea rooms formed the blueprint for Mr Hayes’s earlier announcement that he was seeking private sector involvement in running similar operations at other OPW properties. Mr Hayes said he was looking for tasteful projects which would enhance stately homes and gardens. “No one is talking about a casino on Skellig Michael. We’re open to ideas and partnering with the private sector (on such projects) will hopefully lead to job creation,” he said.
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