HERITAGE campaigners are prepared to step in and help develop a tourist attraction on the site of Ireland’s oldest brewery.
The National Conservation and Heritage Group signalled its commitment to the project ahead of a crucial meeting with Heineken officials in Cork tomorrow to discuss the future of the historic Beamish and Crawford site.
The group, which convinced brewing giant Diageo to develop the Guinness Storehouse tourist attraction in Dublin, is trying to convince Heineken to do something similar on the Beamish land — where brewing has been ongoing for 400 years.
But Heineken confirmed last month that it plans to sell the industrial site once the brewery has been decommissioned — a process that could take up to 18 months.
The announcement effectively ended any hope that Heineken will be involved in the development of a tourist attraction on the site.
However, Heineken invited heritage group representatives to meet them tomorrow to discuss their future plans for the site.
Group chairman Damien Cassidy said he accepts that Heineken will proceed with the sale and that his organisation is facing an “uphill battle”. But he said if the company is not willing to develop a heritage centre itself, his group is willing and able to take on the project.
“We did it with the Kilmainham Gaol site in Dublin,” Mr Cassidy said.
“It was handed over to us in a derelict state in 1960, having lain idle for over 40 years.
“And in 1986, we handed it back to the State a completed and restored museum.
“We spent 25 years working voluntarily to restore the facility. Today it is one of the country’s top visitor attractions and it employs 70 people. We have been told by government ministers that tourism is one way out of this recession.
“To see another skyscraper on the Beamish site will not bring any tourists into Cork.”
He also claimed that Dublin-based developers have expressed an interest in developing the site — to include a heritage element.
The group saved Bewley’s Cafe on Grafton Street from closure. Mr Cassidy said he hopes to promote the Beamish name internationally in the same way that Bewley’s is synonymous with Dublin.
He said he will urge Heineken tomorrow to demonstrate an appreciation of the historical content of the Beamish site and agree to set aside the protected element of the site for development of a tourist centre and a Beamish brewing micro brewery.
“I don’t care who the operator is. Heineken could do it under licence, but it is essential that Beamish is still brewed on the site for visiting tourists,” Mr Cassidy said. “This site is within walking distance of the city centre and could be an immense asset to the city.”
Group secretary Mick Murphy welcomed Heineken’s invitation to talks.
“We will be reminding Heineken of its social and moral responsibilities. They cannot wash their hands of all responsibility for the historic site once it is sold,” he said.
“They have a moral responsibility not to reject our heritage and our history.”
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