Number of visitors to Clonmacnoise putting site under ‘strain’

The monastery receives between 155,000 and 170,000 visitors per year

The OPW  said while the ancient monuments themselves are not being affected, the visitor centre is “struggling to cope with the demand”, especially on busy days during the summer. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

The OPW said while the ancient monuments themselves are not being affected, the visitor centre is “struggling to cope with the demand”, especially on busy days during the summer. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The number of annual visitors to a 6th century monastery in Co Offaly is approximately double what it was designed to handle, putting the site and its facilities under strain, the Office of Public Works (OPW) has said.

Currently, the monastery at Clonmacnoise receives between 155,000 and 170,000 visitors per annum, through a visitor centre designed in the early 1990s to ideally handle approximately 80,000 people each year.

The OPW Heritage Service, who are responsible for maintaining the site and managing the visitor operation, said while the ancient monuments themselves are not being affected, the visitor centre is “struggling to cope with the demand”, especially on busy days during the summer.

As a result, the OPW has announced it will undertake a study to examine the capacity of the site. The work will be carried out in partnership with Fáilte Ireland and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The State body will also go out to tender shortly for expert consultants to help develop a new masterplan for the monastic site. The OPW intends to have a firm appointed by the end of October.

Some of the areas the consultants are expected to address includes its long-term conservation, sustainable access to the site and how new technologies such as online booking and interpretation can improve the service.

The plan will also look at transportation to the monastery, modern amenities such as cafes and toilets, as well as engaging better with the local tourism economy.

Minister of State for the OPW, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, said the site is important not only because of its heritage but also as a result of the potential tourism it could attract.

“The community of the area is very proud of the site which is a heritage emblem for the midlands and understands very well how important it is in providing a historic sense of place for the region and also a tourism resource,” he said.

“We want to make sure it is well protected and guarded for the future and that the visitor experience is the best it can be, ensuring that the economic benefit that flows from it in terms of the tourists it brings to the area is not just maintained, but improved,” he added.

Orla Carroll, director of product development at Fáilte Ireland added that the study of the site is important because it is a “hugely important tourist attraction and extremely popular with visitors”.