Strokestown House and Famine Museum to begin fresh chapter

Site to be taken over by Irish Heritage Trust, which also runs Fota House in Cork

Strokestown House: built by the Mahon family in the 1760s and now owned by Westward Garage Group

Strokestown House: built by the Mahon family in the 1760s and now owned by Westward Garage Group

 

The owner of Strokestown House in Co Roscommon wants to see an international think tank located there, which, by learning lessons from the Irish Famine, could help displaced people around the world.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will be at Strokestown Park and National Famine Museum today to announce that the heritage site will be operated by the Irish Heritage Trust (IHT) for the next 10 years.

Jim Callery, whose Westward Garage Group bought the estate from Olive Hales Pakenham Mahon in 1979, said 27 countries in Europe were still “basically doing nothing” after 200,000 people had drowned fleeing their homes.

“The Famine was never more relevant than now. The same thing is happening all over again and we need some kind of world centre to address it ,” said the 81-year-old.

Chief executive of the IHT Kevin Baird, the charity which has made Fota House in Cork sustainable since taking it over in 2007, said the aim was to do the same thing at Strokestown Park, which gets up to 50,000 visitors a year.

Mr Callery revealed that the project, which will continue to receive backing from some directors of the Westward Group, has been losing on average €200,000 a year.

He said he could not put a figure on how much he had spent restoring and maintaining the estate in the past 36 years. “I would not even want to think – millions.”

He said the partnership with the IHT was to secure the future of Strokestown, where in 1847 Maj Denis Mahon became the first landlord to be murdered during the Famine.

The Strokestown archive of more than 50,000 documents, which Mr Callery came across when he first explored the house, is the focus of the Famine Museum.

“It could have ended up on a bonfire,” said Mr Callery’s daughter Caroilin, a director of the IHT who wants to further strengthen links with the local community. “The house has gone from landlord to tenant and, in a way, will now go back to the people.”

The regeneration of Strokestown – an original estate town built by the Mahon family in the 1760s – is part of the vision, said Ms Callery.

The IHT has stressed the opportunities for rural regeneration. “Studies show that two-thirds of money spent on a visit to a heritage site is spent outside the property but within the local community,” said Kevin Baird.

“We would love to see some capital investment from the State,” he added, saying that he would be “chasing every pot we can find”.