Plans to bring 900,000 visitors annually to Co Cork stately home

The Office of Public Works (OPW) and a community group have ambitious plans to bring more tourists to a stately home in Co Cork, with the hope of attracting up to 900,000 people annually to it within the next seven years.

The OPW has just lodged planning permission to provide more attractions at Doneraile Court, near Mallow and Doneraile Development Association (DAA) is hoping to get visiting cruise liners to start sending coach tours on trips there.

Doneraile Court and its 400 acres of walled parkland is currently in the top five visited sites in the country which offer free entry to the public.

Fáilte Ireland said 480,000 visitors came to it in 2017, putting it ahead of the National Museum of Ireland, Fota Wildlife Park, and Blarney Castle.

DAA secretary Michael O'Sullivan said he's confident the figures for 2018 will top the 500,000-mark.

Parts of the stately home, which was built in the 1600s, are open to the public and the tea rooms are particularly popular.

The OPW has now lodged a planning application to use the first floor of the building to house exhibitions.

It is also seeking to put in an internal lift to serve the basement, first floor and upper floors, put in public toilets and carry out external renovations on the property, including an outhouse in the farmyard complex which it wants to convert into a ticket office.

Mr O'Sullivan said DAA warmly welcome the plans "to expand the offering" that the stately house and extensive parkland had, which includes a herd of deer, a children's playground, looped walkways, picnic areas and a river.

"Going forward there will have to be some fee-paying element involved, particularly when it comes to visiting the house," Mr O'Sullivan said.

The grounds also contains a number of walled gardens which have fallen into disrepair.

Mr O'Sullivan said that the OPW was advancing plans to open up the 19th-century garden to the public.

He said the regeneration of the house and gardens offered "a significant opportunity" to the people of Doneraile to capitalise on increasing visitor numbers predicted in future years.

"We anticipate that we will start to get international visitors and group tours. We are talking with tour operators and we hope to get coach trips from cruise liners that berth in Cork. Many of these tours already go to Blarney (castle) and we are only 20 minutes from Blarney," Mr O'Sullivan said.

Doneraile could benefit from a package of tours which would also take in Mallow Castle and the renowned Annes Grove house and gardens near Castletownroche.

The OPW is currently working on the 30-acre gardens at Annes Grove, which are considered world-class by garden enthusiasts.

Annes Grove features native and exotic species in a breathtaking setting, through which the River Awbeg flows.

The OPW took over the house and gardens in 2016 after lengthy talks with its owners, the Annesley family.

Meanwhile, Cork County Council is proceeding with extensive plans to turn Mallow Castle into a visitor attraction.

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