Clare County Council to take over ownership of Bunratty Castle

Shannon Group transferring its tourism arm to local authorities following Covid-19 losses

Tom Meaney and Lynn Connolly entertain guests at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park in Co Clare in 2017.  The Shannon group confirmed that the employment rights of all of Shannon Heritage’s 200 employees will  be fully protected in the transfer. File photograph: Alan Place

Tom Meaney and Lynn Connolly entertain guests at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park in Co Clare in 2017. The Shannon group confirmed that the employment rights of all of Shannon Heritage’s 200 employees will be fully protected in the transfer. File photograph: Alan Place

 

The Shannon Group is to transfer the ownership of Bunratty Castle and Folk Park to Clare County Council.

The move is part of a wider transfer where the airport operator is to transfer its tourism arm, Shannon Heritage, to local authorities.

The Shannon Group is to also transfer its King John’s Castle asset in Limerick city to Limerick County Council.

The Shannon Heritage business – which also operates Knappogue Castle and Craggaunowen Bronze Age park along with a retail outlet at the Cliffs of Moher – has been decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, in 2019, Shannon Heritage recorded revenues of €19.65 million and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda) of €1.18 million.

The company’s pre-Covid visitor numbers totalled 963,239 in 2019.

Clare County Council already operates the country’s most popular natural tourist attraction at the Cliffs of Moher.

The Shannon Group’s tourism buildings had a book value of €25 million at cost at the end of December last.

Employment rights

The group on Tuesday confirmed that the employment rights of all of Shannon Heritage’s 200 employees will not change and will be fully protected in the transfer.

A spokeswoman said that the agreement will enable the group “to concentrate our energies on restoring passenger numbers at the airport”.

“Today’s announcement will ensure that the heritage sites are being managed by local authorities where there are synergies that can be further developed in line with their well-established tourism development strategies and will provide opportunities for maximising future potential,”she said.

While an agreement in principle has been reached with Clare County Council, it will take some months to conclude, and it is the intention of the parties that the transfer will be completed by the end of 2021.  

Shannon Heritage currently manages a number of day visitor attractions in Dublin on behalf of Fingal County Council and An Post.

Contracts

The Shannon Group spokeswoman said that it is the group’s intention to conclude these operating contracts, and the group will work closely with both parties to ensure the smooth transition of the operations. 

Clare Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe described the proposal as “a very positive development, and it provides a much-needed adrenaline shot to the heritage sites in our region”.

“The past 15 months have been dogged by huge uncertainty and many of the 200 or so Shannon Heritage staff in our county have endured huge stress and worry levels as they faced uncertainty about their futures,” he said.

Independent Clare TD Michael McNamara said: “This is a good move for the visitor attractions as Clare County Council has, unusually among local authorities, a lot of experience in managing world-class tourism sites.”