Iconic Cork Gaeltacht building to get 'new purpose in new era'

Long-awaited construction work this summer will give “new purpose in a new era” to an iconic 1930s building after decades of neglect.
Iconic Cork Gaeltacht building to get 'new purpose in new era'

Coláiste Íosagáin in Baile Mhúirne has lain idle since the school closed in 1989. Picture: Seán Donegan

Long-awaited construction work this summer will give “new purpose in a new era” to an iconic 1930s building after decades of neglect.

Coláiste Íosagáin's gradual decline into dereliction has seen the imposing former boarding school beside the N22 Cork-Killarney road in Baile Mhúirne become a boarded-up symbol of decay.

Part of the building, which closed as a school in 1989, is to be transformed into a ‘Gteic’ regional digital hub with offices and hot-desk facilities. 

An exhibition space is planned for what was once the dining hall of the building, which was bought by Údarás na Gaeltachta in 1998.

Renovation began at the end of last year; construction is expected to take 12 months, dependent on Covid restrictions.

Finishing touches are now being put to design specifics for tender documents in phase one of the redevelopment.

In January 2020, €2.7m was approved through the Enterprise Ireland Regional Enterprise Development Fund towards the regional hub, with at least €1m also contributed by Údarás na Gaeltachta.

The works involve the demolition of part of the rear of the building and construction of a lift and stairs, car-parking areas, and entrance improvements.

The plan is to refurbish the remaining sections of the building in further stages over the next five to 10 years.

The redevelopment of Coláiste Íosagáin has been proposed many times since its closure, with then-education minister Michael Woods turning the sod in 1999 on a £1.5m national all-Irish education facility that failed to materialise. 

A cultural interpretive centre showcasing the work of composer Seán Ó Riada; a training centre for international workers; and a vocational education centre were also mooted.

The cost of renovation has previously proved prohibitive and apart from being used as the setting for the 2003 film Song for a Raggy Boy, the college has lain idle, its windows have been broken and vandals have gained access.

Údarás na Gaeltachta put the property back on the market in 2013, some of the surrounding land having been developed for commercial use and by Cumann Peile Naomh Abán, but despite expressions of interest, no sale resulted.

Business enterprise is not seen as the sole function of the building, which was the focus in 2019 of a €240,000 masterplan, with project partners including UCC, CIT, Cork ETB, Cork County Council, Fáilte Ireland, and Gaeltacht co-operative Comharchumann Forbartha Mhúscraí.

A staircase in Coláiste Íosagáin in Baile Mhúirne prior to the current renovation works carried out under the auspices of Údarás an Gaeltachta. Picture: Seán Donegan
A staircase in Coláiste Íosagáin in Baile Mhúirne prior to the current renovation works carried out under the auspices of Údarás an Gaeltachta. Picture: Seán Donegan

The masterplan explored the building’s use for arts purposes, as a visitor centre showcasing the Múscraí Gaeltacht’s cultural heritage, and an Irish language education facility.

After the failure of successive regeneration plans to come to fruition over the last three decades, the redevelopment was welcomed by former Kerry and Limerick football manager, Mickey Ned O’Sullivan, a Coláiste Íosagáin past pupil who also taught at the school between 1974 and 1989.

“I think it’s great for the building to be regenerated and that it’s being put to use for the community,” he said.

It will bring vibrancy and a workplace for many people and it’s a wonderful idea to bring new life to the building … a new purpose in a new era. 

"It has to contribute to the local community because it was sad looking at something that was gradually declining and deteriorating,” Mr O'Sullivan added.  

A geography and PE teacher who captained Kerry to all-Ireland glory in 1975, Mr O’Sullivan has fond memories of Coláiste Íosagáin but said: “Time changes, the needs of a society change.”

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