Doneraile Development Association (DDA) has a five-year plan which will rocket the north Cork landmark into becoming one of the Republic’s top free attractions, with projected yearly figures of 800,000.
Fáilte Ireland figures, just published, show the historic park was among the top three free visitor attractions in the country, and the biggest outside of Leinster.
Now the association plans to recreate some of the park’s historic gardens, concentrating first on the remnants of one built in the 17th century, and to open up the ground floor of the magnificent Georgian house, Doneraile Court, as an interpretive centre.
Last year there were 460,000 visitors recorded entering the park, leaving it just behind the National Gallery (593,000) and National Botanic Gardens (540,000).
The Doneraile figure should have been even higher as the park was closed to the public for nearly two months to remove trees damaged in a storm.
DDA secretary Michael O’Sullivan said 1,500 trees had since been planted to replace them.
He is confident visitor numbers will pass the half a million this year and ambitious plans are in train to improve its attractions.
“Up to now the growth in numbers can be ascribed to the upgrade works carried out by the Office of Public Works over the past five years and the promotion of the park by the development group which comprises OPW, Fáilte Ireland, Cork County Council, Ballyhoura Development, Mallow Area Partnership and Doneraile Development Association,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
Most visitors come to the park for a walk, run, cycle or picnic in its safe and attractive surroundings. It has a large car park, toilets and tea room facilities.
A notable feature is the number of 5Km run/walk events which now occur at the park on a regular basis and bring between 500-1,000 visitors per event.
The strategy of development has been two-fold, to develop the recreational aspects first and followed by the cultural heritage interest.
“To develop the cultural heritage of the site, extensive research has been engaged upon over the past five years, by the DDA in particular,” said Mr O’Sullivan.
“This led to the publication of ‘A Taste of Doneraile’ in 2012 and an upcoming ‘400 Years of Gardens at Doneraile’ for spring 2016. The story of Doneraile village and its demesne is also told by 10 trained voluntary guides who regularly provide public and private group tours.”
Key to the development of the cultural heritage will be the opening of the formal garden spaces (17th and 19th century) and Doneraile Court itself.
The 17th century garden areas will be shortly open to the public but will take about two years to fully redevelop. Mr O’Sullivan said planning permission was in place to open the ground floor of the historic house to the public.
*To celebrate the record visitor numbers, DAA is organising a free open air concert by the Dustbusters Chamber Orchestra on Sunday next from 4pm to 6pm.