A major study to map out the future of the monastic site at Clonmacnoise Offaly is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
The study, which is being undertaken and led by the Office of Public Works (OPW), is examining the social, environmental and economic costs and benefits of enhancing the existing facilities at Clonmacnoise.
A key element of the study is the development of an enhanced visitor experience with the current site and the development of transport links to nearby towns and villages.
A spokesperson for the OPW told the Offaly Independent this week it is “anticipated that the study will be completed before the end of 2023”.
Clonmacnoise welcomed over 94,000 visitors last year, and was ranked in 9th position nationally in terms of all paid visitor attractions. That figure was substantially up on the Covid-interrupted previous year when visitor numbers totalled 43,325.
The site is regards as one of the most important archaeological and historic sites in Ireland, and is also of major international significance. It has long been the view that the vast potential of the site, both from an archaeological and a tourist perspective, remains largely untapped.
Earlier this week, local Green Party Junior Minister, Pippa Hackett, said the masterplan currently nearing finalisation for Clonmacnoise represents a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for collaboration between all the various agencies and the local community to “create something special” for the entire area around the monastic site.
Minister Hackett has been in contact with her government colleague Minister Patrick O'Donovan to ensure that the future of the site “benefits the local community” by getting people out of their cars and onto the local greenways and trails.
“We must do all we can so that visitors to Clonmacnoise are tempted to extend their stay and enjoy more of what west Offaly has to offer by encouraging them out of their cars and coaches onto our trails and greenways and into our local businesses and they won't be disappointed” said Minister Hackett.
The Minister added that a visit to Clonmacnoise must be a heritage experience which is “truly inclusive of local communities, is climate proofed and brings economic uplift and the potential for spin offs to the wider region.”
She has called on the OPW to take into account the “wishes and plans” of the local community in west Offaly in the development of their masterplan for the Clonmacnoise site and said the plan must also take into account the “significant government investment” in active travel, rural public transport, outdoor recreation infrastructure and the policies outlined in the 'Our Rural Future' policy document.
It is understood that the masterplan being led by the OPW will examine the possibility of creating local sustainable transport links from Clonmacnoise to Shannonbridge and also to Athlone on the Dublin/Galway Greenway. It is also understood to be examining the feasibility of creating a new visitor facility to enhance the visitor experience.
While the study is being led by the OPW it also has input from various stakeholder including the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Offaly County Council, Fáilte Ireland and local community groups across the west Offaly region.