Varadkar pays tribute to all involved in Fota House restoration

The tourism minister paid tribute yesterday to everyone who helped to save, protect and conserve historic Fota House in Cork since it came into public ownership almost 40 years ago.

Leo Varadkar was speaking during his first visit to the property to mark the completion of a €2.5m four-year restoration project.

“It’s great to be here at what is the official opening of the refurbishment of Fota House,” he said.

“It now forms part of a whole cluster of attractions in the Cork Harbour area which has a huge amount to offer tourists, and hopefully we will see growth in that market in the next couple of years.”

Fota House was originally a modest two-storey hunting lodge owned by the Smith Barry family, who lived in Britain.

In the 1820s, John Smith Barry decided to make Fota his home and he commissioned Irish architects Richard Morrison and his son, William, to convert the lodge into an elegant residence.

The house, which has more than 70 rooms, has remained virtually unchanged since and visitors today can glimpse the great craftsmanship that was found in Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries.

It is home to one of the finest collections of Irish art in the country donated by the McCarthy family.

The last of the Smith Barrys, Dorothy Bell, died in 1975, and the estate was acquired by UCC, which partnered with Dublin Zoo to establish Fota wildlife park on a portion of the lands. Its ownership passed to the Fota Trust before the Irish Heritage Trust took over responsibility for Fota House, arboretum and gardens in 2007.

It has raised about €4.5m for the property over the last five years.

Mr Varadkar spent an hour touring the property to see the results of the restoration project, which benefited from about €1.7m in Fáilte Ireland funding.

A tremendous amount of specialist interior restoration work has been completed, including the relaying of original floor boards in rooms on the first floor, the installation of state-of-the-art air monitoring and fire safety systems, and the complete restoration of Fota’s Victorian glasshouses, which had lain derelict for 50 years.

Kevin Baird, the trust CEO, said they were delighted to have received such generous support from Fáilte Ireland. “Their investment in Fota has created a world-class property and allowed us to meet demands of the modern visitor,” he said.

The trust is now raising funds to restore the head gardener’s house.

Seven presentations were made yesterday to members of the McCarthy family, the OPW, Fota Trust Company, the Department of the Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht, Fáilte Ireland, as well as to representatives of Cork City and County Councils to mark their contribution to Fota House over the years.

* The house is now in winter season mode and is open for pre-arranged tours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays only. You must contact 021 4815543 in advance.

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