Copper Coast geopark visitor centre is ‘stepping stone’
‘Underground experience’ planned for old mine shafts dotting cliffs along Waterford coast
Taoiseach Enda Kenny who described the achievement as the community “fighting back” and promised the government would help “in any way we can”.
The development of a €2.5 million “underground experience” in the old mine shafts dotting the cliffs along the Waterford coast is the next goal of the people behind the Copper Coast Geopark following the opening of their visitor centre at the weekend.
The Copper Coast is one of 100 UNESCO-designated geoparks around the world and achieved its status as a result of its unique geological rock formations along the coastline between Dungarvan and Tramore, as well as its heritage as a bustling copper mining base during the 19th century.
There are three UNESCO geoparks on this island, with the others at the Burren in Co Clare and Marble Arch in Co Fermanagh.
At one point between 1810 and 1875, thousands were employed in the copper mines of Co Waterford.
The board of the Copper Coast Geopark want to use the new visitor centre in the seaside village of Bunmahon as a stepping stone towards the next item on their agenda.
The visitor centre, located in a former Church of Ireland church which lay unused since 1945, was officially opened yesterday by Taoiseach Enda Kenny who described the achievement as the community “fighting back” and promised the government would help “in any way we can”.
A feasibility study carried out in 2009 on behalf of Fáilte Ireland recommended the development of the visitor centre, now open in Bunmahon, and the opening to visitors of the old copper mine shafts at nearby Tankardstown.
According to John Galloway, chairman of Copper Coast Geopark Ltd, another ambition is to grow the geopark towards the Comeragh Mountains and join forces with the county’s other great natural amenity. This would make geological sense, he said at today’s opening, but would also provide a “dream marketing opportunity” for the region.
Meanwhile, the converted church and the old Tankardstown mine mean that the Copper Coast is “in possession of something special” and something to build on in the coming years, Mr Galloway said. “It’s a memory of the years when the rather genteel resort of Bunmahon became a throbbing hive of industrial activity.”
The Copper Coast board was founded 15 years ago when the communities from the string of villages which stretch along the shore between Dungarvan and Tramore came together to work on ways of celebrating and promoting their shared identity.
Professor Patrick McKeever, head of earth science with UNESCO, said a geopark is “a place where the memory of the planet can be told” thanks to its geology, and “you can read that memory in the rocks”. Many of the world’s 100 geoparks also have histories of mining, because of the presence of significant mineral amounts running through the rock formations.
Mayor of Co Waterford Damien Geoghegan said the opening of the visitor centre “is about vision, ambition, determination and pride” and paid tribute to the community along the Copper Coast. “They recognised the particular strengths of the area, its wealth of geology dating over 450 million years. They did not simply look at it and see it and leave it, but they imagined its potential.”