A ‘masterplan’ will be designed to help renovate a derelict boarding school in a Cork gaeltacht.
Coláiste Íosagáin, an imposing building on the main Cork-Killarney road in Baile Mhúirne, closed as a school in 1989. However, €180,000 funding from the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund is being seen as a first step in helping owners Údarás na Gaeltachta to restore the building.
Securing a green light for this first phase of funding was “very positive”, said Páid Ó Neachtain, Údarás na Gaeltachta PR executive.
He said third-level educationwas a possible use for the former college but options were being kept open and he stressed that they could also include business enterprise projects.
The authority, he said, would begin a tendering process for research and design of the masterplan with a view to applying for full ‘category one’ funding in 2020, subject to planning permission.
“The masterplan will look at the different markets that could be identified for the use of the building,” said Mr Ó Neachtain. “Are we talking about all the buildings or that new buildings would be required?
“We’re absolutely delighted that this has been approved. Our current focus for this site is to complete this masterplan before year-end with a view, if that’s what comes out of the plan, to having a planning application ready.
“We are the lead agency but we will be working in partnership with UCC, CIT, Cork ETB, Cork County Council, Skillnet, Fáilte Ireland, and the local Comharchumann [Gaeltacht co-operative], in developing this masterplan.”
Mr Ó Neachtain said offering students an “immersive Gaeltacht experience” with residential accommodation was being considered.
“The running of Irish language and culture classes for a degree programme in UCC could make up part of the plan and it would become a very important and distinct location for the teaching and learning of Irish,” he said.
There was also the possibility to “establish a visitor centre there or a tourist destination to tie in to the musical heritage with Seán Ó Riada and the culture of the area”, he said.
“It could be a location for foreign students who wish to study Irish language and culture,” said Mr Ó Neachtain. “It would be a huge asset to the Irish language.
“We are definitely looking at the language aspect and that it would be a resource for language, but also that it would be a resource for tourism.”
Mr Ó Neachtain said that although the Múscraí Gaeltacht attracts tourists, there is no visitor centre in Baile Mhúirne, “and perhaps Coláiste Íosagáin may solve that problem, while highlighting the rich heritage and culture of the area”.
The building, used as a setting for the 2003 film Song for a Raggy Boy, had been touted as an education centre in the past, with then-education minister Michael Woods turning the sod in 1999 on a £1.5m national all-Irish education facility that failed to materialise.
Constructed by the State in the 1930s, the building was used as a teachers’ preparatory college before being acquired by the De La Salle order in the 1960s and used as an Irish language school for boarders and day students. It was bought by Údarás na Gaeltachta in 1998 for over £500,000.
Following the demise of the 1999 plans for an education centre, and a cultural interpretive centre incorporating a section on the work of composer Seán Ó Riada, a bid was made in 2012 to turn Coláiste Íosagáin into a training centre for international workers. A €3.2m investment plan by Trident Safety Group for a live-in vocational education centre foundered when the firm said it was disillusioned with Údarás “bureaucracy”, having asked the authority to hand over the site for a “nominal sum”.