This article, by Dominic Monaghan, was first published in The Tuam Herald June 19 2024  

I would like to comment on the important greenfield site in Athenry town, known locally as ‘Leonard’s Lawn’ in the past, but best known today as ‘The Athenry House’ site in reference to the   numerous development-led planning applications that were submitted in recent years. From a national planning perspective this greenfield site tells a unique story as the site spans the period 1996 to 2011 – the period of the roaring naughties (‘Celtic Tiger’) and the subsequent bust in September 2008. 1996 is generally considered to be the year it all began (Frank McDonald/James Nix, ‘Chaos at the Crossroads’, 2005).

For twenty- six years (1998) I have been centrally involved in the various planning applications for this site which involved three development companies: King Estates Ltd 1998 – 2000, Oyster Homes Ltd 2004 – 2008 and Ghost Zapper Ltd 2018 – 2023. I want to explain why I got involved and where the planning process is currently at in relation to this site. I have never been involved, either as an individual or as part of a group, in any other third party planning submissions except those which apply to the Athenry House site. I was totally independent. My involvement in this site is complete.

I was raised in Athenry town and lived all my youth at the only farming residence with a significant boundary wall next to the Athenry House site. I’ve had a deep attachment to Athenry House since my childhood and the wonderful parkland that surrounds it. The Clarin river flows in a southerly direction through the site dividing it into two parts – the east side and the west side (Fig. 1). All of the Athenry House grounds and the neighbouring residence – Riversdale House and lands, were zoned ‘agricultural’ in the early Athenry Development Plans. In 1998 the Athenry House site acquired the zoning definition ‘Commercial/Residential’. In 2004 it was re-zoned C2 (Commercial/Mixed Use).

It was a long arduous campaign involving the following: eight development-led planning applications (three were withdrawn) lodged with The Planning Department of Galway County Council, three appeals to An Bord Pleanála (ABP) / An Coimisiún Pleanála, and two ABP oral hearings – 2006 and 2022: two oral hearings for the same site is extremely rare. At the end of this campaign a number of important objectives were achieved, most significantly by far, the de-zoning of the Athenry House lands east of the river (Fig.1) to ‘Open Space/Recreational and Amenity’ in 2023 – a wise, practical and forward-thinking decision by our local planning authority and one which ought to be welcomed by the people of Athenry and our locally elected county council representatives.

Ideally, I would have preferred if all the lands were designated Open Space/Recreational & Amenity including the lands belonging to Riversdale House, my home place. Combined, it would have made a great ‘Central Park’ for Athenry – a wonderful setting for a parkland, which indeed it originally was, within a rapidly expanding town – a town very much in favour with large multi-national companies like Dexcom (Fig.2). Notwithstanding, I am content with the Planning Department’s decision to designate the east side ‘Open Space/ Recreational & Amenity’(zone OS), a very welcome inclusion in the recently adopted ‘Athenry Local Area Plan 2024-2030’.

The Ghost Zapper Ltd. (Comer Group Ireland) era.          

The most recent planning application – 21/2281 (Ghost Zapper Ltd. aka The Comer Group) was refused planning permission in April 2022 by Galway County Council Planning Department and by ABP (ABP-313449-22) in November 2023. As of June 2024, no active planning application has been lodged for this site. Regarding the potential development of the Athenry House site on the west side, I believe a developer will apply in the future. I hope it is a developer who values historical remains! The site is zoned C2 (Commercial/Mixed Use) in the ‘Athenry Local Area Plan 2024-2030’. I think development on the west side may be acceptable for the following reasons –

* Nobody wants to be looking at Athenry House in its present state (Fig.3). It could be considered a victim of un-intended damage in the planning process of this site. It needs to be restored and functional again. The damage, while regrettable, is fully repairable (Peter Cox – Carrig Conservation, pers. comm. 2006). Similar demense houses were in ruins for much longer and were successfully restored. Many local groups such as ‘Friends of Athenry House’ have put forward very good ideas for its usage. Galway County Council Planning Department in association with the development company’s design team will play a large part in its design, restoration and functionality. Great opportunities exist for Athenry House and its adjacent coach house building, both of which were scandalously named for demolition by Ghost Zapper Ltd in its 2021 planning application 21/2281.

* If you look closely at the layout of the existing town within the historic town wall (Fig.4), there is a natural extension of the urban town setting moving southwards. Why this urban expansion did not take place in earlier times is associated with a number of theories, mostly speculative. These are: the early establishment of the manor house and associated lands, the site of a fever hospital /a leper compound, a few ghostly sightings and a flood plain – there is some evidence to suggest that this is not the original channel that the Clarin river flowed through. The more plausible explanation is that the town simply did not expand beyond what we see today (Prof. Etienne Rynne). There is evidence that an inner town wall may have existed to protect a smaller less ambitious settlement area, hence the term ‘town walls’ (Dr. John Bradley – pers. comm. ’06).
 
 * This is a unique opportunity to create a truly 21st century urban development that could showcase all that is good in modern architectural design, something that is not available to other towns in western Europe who cannot work off a blank (greenfield) canvass. If designed properly it should attract thousands of visitors a year to Athenry to view the internationally award winning architectural design that is ‘New Quarter’, Athenry. The site comprises a considerable area inside the circuit of the historic town wall (Figs. 1 & 4). The sustainable-living goals (carbon neutral) and modern design statements are enormous here!


* We Athenrians are privileged to live in a very special town immortalised in film/book (‘Flight of the Doves’ – Ralph Nelson/Walter Macken), poetry (Padraic Fallon), song (Pete St John) and steeped in historical remains! Every town should be allowed to expand and grow residentially and commercially according to the times. Athenry is no different. I have no doubt that our hard-working local planning authority, whilst encouraging local participation in its design layout, will ensure a 21st century development that will be the envy of similar historic towns throughout Ireland, the UK and Europe. The historic town, its people and its ‘fields’ deserve no less!

* The site development, as proposed in the most recent planning application – 21/2281, has just one access route at Swan Gate for vehicular traffic both inbound and outbound, sharing the same road with Aldi via the Swan Gate car park. Historical evidence suggests that an access point did exist towards the southern end of the site via the present opening at the Spittal Gate (site of). It’s unlikely that this southern access option will be available anytime soon and even if it is it will be of limited value as the opening is extremely narrow, allowing for a one-way vehicular system to operate. Is there a greener solution that the design team could look at? This is the ideal site to look for a cleaner, greener option with a little bit of ingenuity and foresight!

In Conclusion

While some sub-surface evidence does exist for very limited and scattered building remains on the west side, no archaeological evidence to create a streetscape to tie in with the rest of the town exists (Dominic Delany, Archaeologist – pers. comm. 2008). The Athenry House site, in my opinion, requires a lot more scholarly attention and academic thought concerning the period prior to the construction of Athenry House. This aspect has been neglected and needs further discussion. It would help greatly if the archaeological excavation findings and report (2007) were more readily accessible locally! The report remains unpublished.

Regarding An Bord Pleanála – ABP/An Coimisiún Pleanála, I have grave reservations in that body acting on local planning issues. In my experience it is not tuned in locally and some of its decisions border on the bizarre. The oral hearing in October 2022 was poorly chaired; it was a disaster. It needs to concentrate on strategic projects of national and regional importance. Its pre-2008 celtic tiger role as a puppet for rubber-stamping central government housing policy is no longer relevant. Our local planning authority process can look after that with the consultative urban Local Area Plans.

Finally, for anybody who wishes to view my submissions to Galway County Council Planning Department they can do so by logging on to the Galway County Council website at: www.galway.ie/planning, and putting in the relevant planning file numbers 20/1384 or 21/2281. My submissions are more readily accessible online via Finbarr O’ Regan’s excellent local history portal, dedicated to matters concerning Athenry, at www.athenry.org. My submission to An Bord Pleanála( ABP-313449-22) is also available to access via the athenry.org website. My ABP submission gives a more comprehensive account of why I pursued this course.

List of Figures:

Fig.1: Plan of the ‘Athenry House’ site layout with the Clarin river dividing the site into a west side (C2: Commercial/Mixed Use) and an east side (OS: Open Space/Recreational & Amenity).  Courtesy: Ordnance Survey, Dublin. Ireland.

Fig.2: A sign at the ‘Athenry Roundabout’, off the M6 motorway, erected in February this year welcoming Dexcom (misspelt on sign) to Athenry. It was taken down a few days later.

Fig.3: Athenry House (feature photo) as seen from the Swan Gate car park. The 19th century stable building, to the left in the photo, was pencilled in for demolition by Ghost Zapper in 2021. The early 1960s bungalow, between Athenry House and the stable, is to be demolished.

Fig.4: Map of Athenry town showing the present day residential/commercial development (red).

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Friday 7 July 2023

Introduction

We congratulate the staff of Galway County Council Planning Department for putting together this comprehensive consultative draft LAP for Athenry town and its immediate environs.

The draft, comprising of six parts, recognises the historical importance of Athenry town and the immense opportunities it offers in terms of future residential  and commercial growth. In this regard we applaud the manner in which the draft draws upon the delicate balance between sustainable 21st century urban development within what is internationally recognised as one of the finest medieval walled towns in western Europe.

Furthermore, we welcome the document’s emphasis on the tourist aspect of the town and the enormous potential this has for the town’s growth going forward.

Issue Arising

A brief explanation

As a local body involved primarily in the historical aspect of the town we will concern ourselves with just one aspect that we believe ought to be addressed in the final Athenry LAP 2023 – 2029.

The most famous visual aspect one immediately sees on approaching the medieval town is its historic town wall. Indeed, the late Professor Etienne Rynne (UCG) and Dr. John Bradley (Maynooth University) both agreed that the external views of the wall on entering the town from the east and the south are one of the best of any walled towns in western Europe. It is for this very reason that the Board of Works first proposed a ‘buffer zone’ (protection zone) around the town wall back in the mid 1970s. This came to fruition in the early 1990s when the OPW officially declared the town wall a National Monument (NM) and a 15m protection zone was established both inside and outside the circuit of the town wall. Later, in the 1990s, this protection zone was extended to its present limit of 30m inside and out. We consider this 30m protection zone to be adequate both inside and outside the circuit of the town wall. We hope that sometime in the future this protection zone may facilitate the inclusion of a carefully designed surface-laid public walkway/cycleway running the full circuit of the town wall both inside and out.

The issue we have with the draft Athenry LAP is as follows:

The draft completely lacks clarity with regard to the town wall. We believe that a dedicated map should be included detailing the circuit of the town wall with the 30 metre protection zone clearly marked on both sides of the National Monument. This is a critical inclusion in order to inform the 34 stakeholders, whose property is adjacent to the town wall, of their civic responsibility in protecting and preserving its present remains. Please note that Athenry town wall is a National Monument in state care but NOT state ownership. The individual stakeholders are the owners and guardians of the wall: we believe this to be the case at present. More importantly, any future encroachment onto the protection zone by private interests must be discouraged.  This can only be done by clearly defining the protection zone surrounding the monument on a dedicated map. No great detail regarding development encroachments in the past (prior to the establishment of the 15m or 30m protection limit) is required on the town wall 30m protection zone map.

We believe that the 30m protection zone belongs to no zoning definition or zoning matrix. It cannot be part of the zoning: it is a strip of land whose purpose is to preserve the wall’s integrity and, hopefully in the future, present an opportunity for public access to the town wall circuit. We suggest that the ubiquitous term ‘buffer zone’ be removed in favour of the more descriptive term ‘protection zone’.

Finally, we would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the great contribution the Heritage and Conservation Officers of Galway County Council have given to Athenry Town down the years, not least the ‘Athenry Town Walls Conservation and Management Plan’ – Gifford Cultural Heritage, UK.

We would respectfully ask Galway County Council to include a ‘town wall circuit and 30m protection zone’ map in the Athenry Local Area Plan 2023 – 2029 for the reasons outlined above.

On behalf of the committee:

Yours sincerely,

____________________________.

Dominic Monaghan.  Secretary & PRO, Athenry Historical Society.

Finbarr O’Regan.  Honorary Member, Athenry Historical Society.

Aideen Rynne.  Honorary President, Athenry Historical Society.

 

Correspondence via email to the Secretary at dominicmonaghan2@gmail.com .

PREAMBLE

Dear Sir / Madam,

Thank you to An Bord Pleanála (ABP) for affording me the opportunity to reply to this first party appeal by Ghost Zapper(GZ) Limited in respect of planning reference number 21/2281 – Galway County Council.

I was first made aware of the appeal on Friday, 29 April. I had access to the appeal documentation online on Thursday, 5 May. I then had eighteen days to prepare this third party submission in which I had to go through two massive planning application files namely, the original (relevant parts again) and the ABP revised(?) documentation submitted by GZ and, trawling through the relevant material for the precedent case at Custom House Quay, Cork City – Cork City Council: 19/38589; ABP-308596-20, a massive undertaking in its own right. Contrast that with Ghost Zapper’s request to Galway County Council for an eight week extension of time in early February and used that period to run off and prepare its appeal to An Bord Pleanála.

It is important to clarify that on the subject of an oral hearing, I fully accept the absolute authority of ABP in this regard, bearing in mind that ABP and I have already gone through this process regarding an earlier planning application for this site, namely 04/5562; PL 07.214418 (oral hearing 2006).

 

1.  Introduction to my submission

I am very familiar with the subject site at Athenry House having previously submitted to ABP on two occasions in the past, namely 04/5562;PL 07.214418 in 2004-2006 and, 07/3703;PL 07.227445 in 2007. I played within and around Athenry House ruins as a child and in the vast beautiful adjoining parkland as a teenager.

More importantly, I lived all of my formative childhood and teenage years at Riversdale House, my primary home at that time, with a full-time farming father and mother who instilled in all eight children a love and passion for our local heritage and all things to do with nature and wildlife. My father acquired Riversdale House in 1951. He greatly admired the medieval town wall that bordered our land to the south and one of the very few of the thirty-plus town wall stakeholders never to build anything near the town wall long before there was any mention of a buffer zone. I studied archaeology and geography for my primary degree and archaeology (Bronze Age fulachta fiadh) for my MA at what was then University College, Galway and became a practising field archaeologist.

In this present time could I respectfully ask the Inspector assigned to this appeal and, The Board members involved in deciding this case to hop on the train or take the motorway (Exit 17) and visit,  the authentic medieval town of Athenry, that we Athenrians (pronounced ‘at-hin-ri-ans’ in a rolling fashion) are so immensely proud of.

It is a vibrant town with great people, full of energy and enthusiasm – both newly arrived and established family units and fantastically preserved external vistas of our 14th and 15th century extensive town wall remains and its attendant mural towers that attracts visitors in their thousands, both domestic and foreign, all year round. Pete St. John (the song writer from Dublin), on a train journey to Galway City, hopped off at Athenry and, the rest is history!

Many of the town’s inhabitants, therefore, were looking forward to the day when a property developer would arrive and develop this ‘greenfield’ site. It was hoped that the finished architecture would attract an equal amount of visitors inside the town wall to view the architecturally award-winning 21st century residential/commercial mix that is ‘New Quarter’. Oyster Homes, through their agents – the excellent Carrig Conservation and the brilliant (reluctantly acknowledged) Tom Phillips Associates nearly got there with 04/5562 but blew it with 07/3703 – a planning application that reflected the culture of raw greed at that time and, the ensuing Alan Ahern, Morgan Kelly and David McWilliams predicted property collapse in September 2008.  The townspeople were furious with certain aspects of the An Bord Pleanála decision (PL 07.227445) in 2007. And still are.

The excellent preservation and continuing maintenance of our urban ancient monuments is due, in large part to Galway County Council and their extremely committed, hard-working heritage and conservation officers. We could not have got better and that’s  an indisputable fact.

It is astounding and incredibly insulting, therefore, that Ghost Zapper Ltd would have the audacity to apply in writing to Galway County Council Planning Department for an eight week extension of time and use that time to prepare their case to ABP, without firstly addressing the issues brought up in the Council’s Inspector’s (123 page) report – Ghost Zapper were made aware of them. That Ghost Zapper could exercise such contempt for the local planning process by throwing their lot with ABP worries me greatly for the integrity of the whole planning process. What about the important heritage and environmental issues raised by the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage DAU? That wasn’t supposed to go to ABP, was it? These should be dealt with at local level first. Is this type of process-splitting permitted under planning law? Is it considered proper procedure?

 

2.  Submission Issues

There are eight principal issues that I wish to discuss here in my submission to ABP-313449-22.  Other topics of discussion relevant to this case that I would like to have addressed here will have to wait. The principal issues are as follows:

2.1 The issue of ‘PRECEDENT’ and the argument for ‘EXCEPTIONAL CIRCUMSTANCES’

Ghost Zapper Limited, through its agent John Cronin & Associates have, for the first time in this site’s history of twenty four years, introduced the issue of precedent in its appeal and cite a recent example at the Custom House Quay re-development site – ‘The Revenue Building’ (PS 818), Custom House Street, Cork City:  Cork City Council planning reference number 19/38589; ABP-308596-20. No such comparative precedent exists at the Custom House re-development site. It bears absolutely no relevance or significance to the Athenry House site – ‘The Coach House’, in any shape or form and, is definitely no precedent to the argument for ‘exceptional circumstances’. I welcome the opportunity to put this ridiculous historical comparison to bed at a later stage. I note that JCA Architects were very vague and limited in their detail regarding this precedent site in Cork City, despite their first hand knowledge and involvement in this urban industrial re-development.

 

2.2  Riversdale House and Adjoining Agricultural Lands

Ghost Zapper has no compulsion under planning law to agree a common boundary wall with an adjoining property. That’s accepted.

One could be forgiven for thinking that Riversdale House and lands doesn’t exist considering the way it is frozen out of the development narrative presently before us?  Riversdale is a living, working farm that regularly ‘runs’ limousin and hereford heifers/cows with a bull in the fields adjacent to the PDS (Proposed Development Site). It intends to continue as a working farm into the future.

Previous planning applications all respected the privacy of Riversdale House and its property. They were: 98/2159 King Estates Ltd; and 04/5562 & 07/3703 Oyster Homes Ltd.  07/3703, which is the most recent prior to 20/1384 Ghost Zapper Ltd and, the first to restrict development to the western side of the River Clarin, had open green space where Block 12 is located today – 21/2281.

In all previous planning applications the actual owners of the development companies – King Estates Ltd and Oyster Homes Ltd called in person initially to see if the owner – Mrs Norrie Monaghan ( presently 95yrs young and in great health) would sell all or part of her property in order to facilitate the adjacent property development. The answer was always the same: “This is the family loom, I couldn’t”.

Eamon Conneely (Oyster Homes) called in person several times and made several different land swap proposals and overly generous financial offers but to no avail. When it eventually got through that Riversdale House and agricultural lands were not for sale, Eamon still called to discuss development issues and other such matters common to both parties. Eamon was respectful always. King Estates and Oyster Homes left the area in front of Riversdale House completely free of development – it was to be the open space accompanying their respective developments. It’s where the revised (which planning docs do we look at now? The 21/2281 to Galway County Council or the one sent to ABP?) three storey BLOCK 12 is presently located (21/2281) and, the three storey BLOCK 13 in the previous GZ development proposal (20/1384).

The Comer Bros are a different proposition. They behave differently. For a start they never attempted, out of courtesy even, to make any form of contact with the owner regarding the extensive boundary that both properties share and the boundary treatment that both parties would mutually agree upon – the sort of conduct that one would expect from gentlemen and, the sort of conduct Mrs Monaghan had become accustomed to in the past with the two previous development company owners.

Instead, the company with the joke name – Ghost Zapper (go zap her), engaged with Riversdale in an intimidatory fashion: a family with long established roots in the area and an unusual connection to Athenry Town – Riversdale is unusual in that it is located inside the town proper (inside the town wall). But in order to go into town to shop and do other things we have to go outside to get back in to the town, and vice versa. A very interesting social history story lies behind this.

In planning application 20/1384, the Dept. of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht & the Islands, The Heritage Council and, Galway County Council Planning Authority made it very clear to Ghost Zapper that Block 13 (three storey) was unacceptable in terms of height and location. It must be scaled down or preferably removed altogether. Ghost Zapper, in planning application 21/2281 arrive back with Block 12 in the same position and three storeys high. If this is not in the realm of aggressive, intimidating behaviour towards a neighbouring residential property in order to bully them out, then let us agree to differ. Local people are outraged at the way Riversdale is treated by Ghost Zapper in not respecting its long-held privacy.  This issue needs to be dealt with by ABP!

I would respectfully ask ABP to take cognisance of the fact that the developer shares a substantial and significant boundary with Riversdale House and its adjacent lands in terms of privacy, agricultural and amenity value. It is one of five private properties sharing a common boundary with the PDS in the last fifty years. Riversdale is the only residential property of the five. It originally shared a two metre(circa) high, mid to late 19th century course limestone wall with an interesting relationship (social history-speaking) to its larger Athenry House neighbour back in the day.

The other four are:

1. Hynes’ house, next to Athenry House’s proposed pedestrian entrance. It shares a seven metre long plastered gable-end cement block wall.  It has been derelict for twenty-five years or more.

2. Sherlock & Co Solicitors which is strictly a commercial business only.

3. The permitted Aldi development site 20/41(retention) and 21/1721(revised plans) in the former Arrabawn Co-Op site. It is currently being developed by Aldi. Not a single person or group, with the exception of An Taisce, involved in the submissions to 20/1384(GZ) or 21/2281(GZ) objected to Swandive’s unLimited/Aldi(Ireland)Ltd three planning applications: 15/356; 20/41 & 21/1721. McCarthy/Keville/O’Sullivan Associates(MKO Planning & Environmental Consultants) are the main consultants to both this site and the Ghost Zapper site, which in itself stirs much interest and debate locally. John Cronin Associates(JCA) Architects are also the main architectural and heritage advisors to both the Aldi and Ghost Zapper sites. They know there is a big pedrestrian/vehicular safety issue at the Swangate junction. The bend in the road within the site which will necessitate the removal of the Coach House is a deliberate distraction and a ‘smoke-screen’.  There is a very sinister plot going on here between ‘Dennison’s Scrapyard’ site, the Aldi site and the subject site at Athenry House which will seriously compromise safety at Swangate road junction and architectural features within the subject site.

4.   Galway County Board Kenny Park GAA grounds. Caters for GAA games and local community sports events.

 

2.3  The 2007 Archaeological Excavation Report

Where is it? Why isn’t it in the public domain? This is the bible for the archaeological excavation results. It must be made public. It must be published. Why isn’t GZ/JCA Architects showing the excavation plots from the excavation report rather than making up its own two fantasy plots. I saw exactly where the excavation plots were located in 2007 and, sometimes, with the toothed bucket (yes, a toothed bucket) of a digger, hanging over the archaeologists’ heads while they worked, waiting to remove the last of the topsoil to create the surface for the playing fields in Doughiska, Galway City. The situation of no archaeological excavation report, some fifteen years later, is beyond comprehension!

2.4   The all important CEMP report

The CEMP report is the most important document in any planning application submitted by a developer. In this revised CEMP to ABP it is just over fifty pages – hardly sufficient I would imagine! In simple terms it defines the seriousness of that applicant to implement best working standards and, more importantly, its willingness to adhere to and implement the principles of best practice into the future when the project is finally completed and the project developer – Ghost Zapper, has left for good and the management company is in place. It is the-go-to-document. The seemingly sweeping statement I’m about to make would appear to be, FINALLY, over the top. I STAND FULLY BY IT.

I know for an absolute fact that if the Comer Bros get the go ahead for this project they will knock Athenry House.

At the end of this submission to this appeal you will find my hand-written signature and my name underneath.

 

N.B.  2.5  The issue of an EIAR for this site

In the 122 page Inspector’s report (PL27.308596 – Cork site) the An Bord Pleanála Inspector, Pauline Fitzpatrick notes that the Custom House Quay industrial re-development site “has a stated area of 1.198 hectares”.  In Ciara Brett’s (Cork City Archaeologist) and Niamh Twomey’s (Heritage Officer, Cork City Council) reports to the planning process, both state that the site is located outside the zone of archaeological potential for the City of Cork.  This is significant. I will remind The Board that the Custom House site is a post-medieval industrial complex, predominantly 19th century. It had multi-development changes in that period and, in the strictest sense of the phrase is a ‘brownfield site’. The Custom House site required Tower Development Properties Ltd to furnish an EIAR with their planning application, which they did. If the Custom House site required a EIAR then surely the Athenry House site requires one too. Both sites have the potential to affect marine life – one site adjacent to the coast, the other site up-stream.  Sub-threshold? I will furnish detailed information on this if The Board so requests.

 

 

 

2.6  The Discount Store at Ghost Zapper site and the Permitted Development at 20/41; 21/1721

Ghost Zapper’s/MKO written and visual drawings (very unprofessional drawings with no scale) give the impression that the discount superstore (Lidl) at the Ghost Zapper site is similar in size to the permitted Aldi discount foodstore in the former Arrabawn Co Op site – Galway County Council Reference Number: 21/1721 = revised plans. This is not correct. Aldi/MKO, for some very strange and unexplainable reason to the untrained eye, reduced both the Gross Floor Area/Net Retail Area for the permitted 15/356 Swandive unLtd. It is obvious to me why they did it. I note that MKO/JCA never mentioned planning application 21/1721 in their appeal submission to ABP for that very reason.

 

2.7   ‘Dennison’s Scrapyard’ carpark and the northern vehicular ingress/egress via Cross Street

This is critical to the whole scheme of things in terms of getting a future planning application and Lidl over the line in the not too distant future if this appeal to ABP fails. It may also be used should the Comer Bros decide to seek a judicial review. Ghost Zapper/MKO attempts to confuse it with the pedestrian entrance at Athenry House gated entrance at the Clarke Street/Cross Street junction is just comical. I have absolute confidence in the gated ashlar stone pillared entry at Clarke Street/Cross Street remaining pedestrian/cyclist only. Drawing no. ATH-CCH-OO-ZZ-DR-A-101, dated 27/10/2021 shows very clearly the capacity for LGV’s to service the Lidl superstore for both entry and exit. There are also several text references to the vehicular “Cross Street access via an existing carpark to the north” embedded in the documents submitted to ABP.

 

2.8  Outbuilding – the ‘Coach House’ and, the Road Alignment

Of all the previous seven issues mentioned, this is probably the one that An Bord Pleanála needs to pay most attention to as it is blatantly sinister on two critical fronts. Unfortunately, neither my eyesight nor time presently allows me to elaborate upon this cruelly sinister issue.

 

Concluding Remarks

The Inspector and The Board need to read every single document, word for word, submitted in this Ghost Zapper Ltd. appeal to ABP. Its appeal documentation is littered with inaccuracies and contradictions.

In the appeal documents the Comer Brothers – Luke and Barry claim to be “in the property business in Ireland for 41 years”. I can’t confirm nor deny this statement. But what I can say definitively is they only very recently entered the site purchasing and property construction side of things in Ireland around the same time as NAMA was beginning to acquire vast tracts of land. In 2009/2010/2011 or thereabouts they saw an unique opportunity for investment in Ireland and went for it. Unfortunately, the importance of heritage and cultural issues can become confused with the poverty and hardship that existed in 1950’s and 60’s Ireland. This is understandable. With no prospect of a job or a future, people had to leave. For many returnee’s this can be the abiding bitter memory of their enforced economic exile abroad.

This is an unique archaeological and historical site in the context of European cultural heritage: why was it left virtually untouched in the medieval and post-medieval periods? There is no place left in  Europe where such a similar greenfield site exists.  It is a site, in my opinion and that of many others, as important to the urban medieval/historical period of Ireland as Dr Patrick F. Wallace’s Woodquay/Fishamble Street and Christchurch Place sites are to Viking Age Ireland and Europe.

And yet, incredibly, we still await the unpublished results of an archaeological excavation carried out nearly fifteen years ago. Academic institutions, with disciplines of history and archaeology, are baffled as to why an appropriate third level college was not afforded the opportunity to carry out a research-led excavation over a period of four to five summers.

I know, from past experience (PL07.214418), that in an oral hearing situation he/she who has the best chance of winning wears the Rolex® watch: what can be described in biblical lay-person terms as ‘David and Goliath’.  Even if the Comer Bros don’t win they still have the option of going to a judicial review, which is beyond my means. BUT, I’ll go there if asked to by ABP! ABP don’t need to go to an oral hearing in this instance, but that’s the Board’s prerogative.

The Comer Bros. have run with the nuclear option to ABP, the one that so often occupies the listeners to the Pat Kenny Newstalk radio show and the SO’R radio show(RTE) in the past – ‘The wacky Board decisions’, with the mantra:

‘In you O Bord, we place our trust’.

Welcome to Athenry!

Signed:      ______________________________ .

Dominic Monaghan.

Date:        _____________________________ .

 

END.

Riversdale House,

Athenry,

County Galway.

Date:  Friday, 14 January, 2022.

Re.  Reference No: 21/2281, Galway County Council PA. Ghost Zapper Ltd.

 

Abbrevations and TERMS used in this submission:

ABP – An Bord Pleanála.

gfa – gross floor area (M2).     nrfa – net retail floor area(M2).

p3/15 – page 3 of a 15 page document.

PA – (Galway County Council) Planning Authority.

LA – Local Authority (Galway Co Co)      DoTCAGS&M – Dept. of Tourism, Culture, Arts,

GAA – Gaelic Athletic Association.                                   Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.

CEMP report – Construction Environmental Management Plan.

PDF Doc – Documents on the Galway County Council planning website, and relevant to Planning Reference 21/2281, unless otherwise stated. E.G. PDF 5.746Mb  ‘Application Form – Part A’, 13 pages;  20/1384 PDF: 0.176Mb.

A Chara,

I wish to make the following two points by way of introduction to the principal body of my submission to PA 21/2281 – Ghost Zapper Ltd. :

1. Swandive Ltd. has planning permission since October, 2015 (PA 15/356; ABP 07.245198; PA 20/41= retention) for a substantial 1,379 m2(nrfa) single storey discount retail store on the former Arrabawn Co Op site (0.66 hectare) which is currently accessed at Clarke street. A ‘Brownfield’ site, it is zoned ‘C1’ – Town Centre/Commercial.  What is occupying the minds of many within the town and the broader catchment area is: why this Aldi discount store didn’t open its doors four years ago?  Apart from a submission from An Taisce to 15/356, NOBODY from 20/1384 made a submission to 15/356.

2. Similarly, in February 2015, a 1.08 hectare site at Church Street applied for planning permission (PA 15/149; ABP 07.244999) for a single storey discount  foodstore (nrfa: 1.743m2).  The PA granted permission in May 2015 with fifteen conditions attached.  It was subsequently appealed to ABP by RGDATA only and ABP issued a decision to refuse based on two reasons (PA 15/149 – PDF 0.028Mb = 2 pages).  Many townspeople considered this a major setback for the town as it was, generally, well received locally by interest groups and the business community.  Apart from two individuals (one for and one against) NOBODY else from 20/1384 made a submission to 15/149.  There were nine eventual submissions to 15/149 – six in favour and three against.

ATHENRY HOUSE SITE – 21/2281

NOTE: Not a single piece of the subject site of 21/2281 falls within the zoning matrix ‘C1’

as claimed by MKO Consultants in PDF Doc 19.516Mb. See p.6 in this submission.

The current site at Athenry House is a wholly different scenario to either of the aforementioned sites for a number of reasons, namely:

·       It is a substantially bigger site – 3.24 hectares (21/2281 – PDF 5.746Mb, p3/15).

·       It has a significant commercial element with a substantial residential mix.

·       It was the subject of a major excavation in 2007 and, as yet, an  unpublished archaeological report.

·       It is a ‘greenfield’ site.  The frenzied removal of topsoil in May, 2008 to Doughiska, Galway does not render it a ‘brownfield’ site, a term used by Ghost Zapper Ltd repeatedly throughout 21/2281.

·       It contains two extant (one protected) recorded structures namely Athenry House (RSP 131) with its attendant ashlar cut stone outhouse/stables and, a Dovecote.

·       The southern section of the subject site is adjacent to Athenry Town Wall, 81.45m, a National Monument in state care (GA084-001021-).

·       It is within the area designated as a Heritage Town.  It should be noted here that Aldi GmbH – PA: 15/356, are making a massive effort to incorporate their building into the existing medieval fabric of the town.

·       In the context of medieval walled towns, the site at 21/2281 is part of a unique setting which does not appear to be built upon in any significant manner during the post-medieval period.  The excavation report!

·       There is not a single medieval walled town in Ireland, the UK or Europe where such an unique situation occurs.

·       This site is what makes Athenry Town unique among any other medieval walled towns and, of international importance as a ‘Heritage Town’.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon the guardians of this town (those of us with ancestral links and those who have choosen to make Athenry their home) to insist that any development that takes place on this site reflects the status this once great town had in the medieval period.  It was a major ecclesiastical centre of learning with university status . It was an important Anglo-Norman settlement route with, originally wooden and then stone turreted and a moated wall defence and, finally, one of the finest examples in Ireland of a castle (not a fortified tower house) – the ultimate signature of wealth, status and prestige at that time.

In view of the points above, the large discount superstore ( gfa: 2.157m2)  is grotesquely inappropriate in the context of this site in terms of its statement of intent, aesthetics and, in particular, the amount of vehicular traffic it will create within the site in general and, more specifically, at the junction with Swangate.  No amount of traffic reports (PDF 4.972Mb; PDF 25.643Mb = 321pages and not a single mention/report on Kenny Park match day traffic) can hide the fact that the Swangate junction can’t handle this volumn of vehicular traffic.  It will become a major bottle neck and a potential hazard to road users and pedestrians alike, particularly during the  construction phase.  It will not work.  It’s a no-brainer.  Surely, there are dozens of alternative near-town sites more appropriate to this type of large discount superstore with potential underground car-parking and the correct amount of surface parking spaces available.  Its ‘statement of intent’, I would suggest, is that during the construction phase it will necessitate another entrance/exit to the site. This planning application 21/2281 is premature pending Ghost Zappers inclusion of its Cross Street plans for vehicular access through an existing car-park to the north of the Athenry House site.  The residents of Clarke Street and Cross Street have a right to know if it will be a permanent fixture and what are the plans for the site formerly known as “Dennison’s scrap-yard”.  Presently, it is a vacant car-park.

PDF: 11.810Mb, p.89/123 – ‘Description of the Proposed Development’ – Site Location .  MKO – Planning and Environmental Consultants.

QUOTE: “The application site can be accessed via Swan Gate to the north-west corner of the       site and Cross Street through an existing carpark to the north. Athenry Town Centre is situated to the north and north west of the subject site”.

PDF: 9.836Mb, p.5/22 – ‘Design Statement’  CCH Architects.

QUOTE: “The site is currently accessed from one location to the west, opposite the Swan Gate car park road.” (My emphasis).

PDF: 20.041 Mb, p.7/51 – ‘SITE AND PROJECT DETAILS’ – Site Location and

Development Description  (The CEMP report) MKO.

QUOTE:  “The proposed development site is located on lands in Athenry, Co. Galway (Grid Ref: M50264 27567), adjacent to the existing town centre. The site is surrounded by the historic Athenry stone walls and contains the ruins of Athenry house (a protected structure) as well as an adjacent unoccupied coachhouse/mews. The Clarin river flows along the eastern development site boundary. The application can be accessed via Swan Gate to the north-west corner of the site and Cross Street through an existing carpark to the north.” (my emphasis). “Athenry town centre is situated to the north and north-west of the proposed site, and Kenny Park GAA pitch is situated to the immediate west of the site.”

PDF: 20.041Mb, p.10/51 – 2.3.3  ‘Site Establishment’

QUOTE: “The site will be accessed from the via(sic) Swan Gate to the north-west corner of the site and Cross Street through an existing carpark to the north”.

The Traffic and Transportation Assessment report:

The ‘Traffic and Transportation Assessment’ report containing 321 pages (25.643Mb) by Tobin Consulting Engineers is an embarrassing attempt to defend this junction at Swangate.  It is clear to all locals that it won’t work. There is not a single report in the assessment referencing the traffic mayhem that will occur during a major gaelic game at Kenny Park.  I doubt there are many GAA grounds in Bexley, Somerset, Cambridgeshire, Durham, Cardiff City, Aberdeen, Perth & Kinross or Sterling that could create the same problem!

Residential and Cafè design

Apart from a reduction in the density of residential properties on site, due in part to restrictions on height and one(?) primary vehicular access, Ghost Zapper has made little effort to incorporate the design element in to the existing fabric of the town.  In fact Ghost Zapper blatantly ignores the advice of the DoTCAGS&M (20/1384 PDF: 0.138Mb; PDF: 0.176Mb) and The Heritage Council ( 20/1384 PDF: 0.068Mb ) in regard to Block 12 where it was made abundantly clear that a three storey building was not acceptable in such close proximity to the National Monument. The road servicing ‘block 12’ comes within c. 20m of the town wall.

Where in the town is there a streetscape that has a two-storey dormer at the beginning and end of each street?  It is ugly and, I believe it is an attempt to have all the houses two storey dormers or three storey dwellings. Also, why are all these houses not fitted with solar panelling? This should not be a condition of planning! It should be part of the current application before the Planning Authority.

Some of us with long memories of the planning history of this site will recall an  attempt by a previous developer to alter significantly (PA 07/3703; ABP PL 07.227445) the agreed plans of an earlier An Bord Pleanàla decision (PL 07.214418).  A much admired and unbroken linear landscape feature running from the proposed Athenry House Hotel to the eastern mural tower on the town wall was obstructed to facilitate the inclusion of a larger supermarket.

No effort was made to create a café that would make a big architectural design statement out of the ordinary and mundane. Instead, pluck it out of a design book from Brooklyn, Picadily or Southend and stick it in there. It’ll be alright!

A BRIEF ZONING OVERVIEW OF THE SUBJECT SITE:

Back in the early 1990s when the subject site and adjoining lands were zoned from  Agriculture/Amenity,Open Space to residential/Commercial and, presently(Athenry Local Area Plan {LAP} – 2012-2022) to Residential (phase 1 & 2) = Riversdale House and Commercial/Mixed Use (C2)= Athenry House, quite  a number of people, including myself, were disappointed that these lands were not kept as amenity, open space/agriculture and, sometime in the future, if the opportunity presents itself, as a park for residents and visitors to enjoy.  Sadly, this pipe-dream appears to have passed and these lands are determined by some to be developed in time.

However, an opportunity will arise in 2022 when the citizens of this town will be given an opportunity to decide the zoning destiny of these lands once again, rather than ‘gift’ them to persons who may be domiciled outside this country for whatever reasons?

NOTE:  MKO Planning and Environmental Consultants (PDF 19.516Mb, p.16/51) state that “a

small part of the westernmost edge of the site falls within ‘C1 Town Centre/Commercial’

zoning”. This is incorrect. The 42m2 wedge of land in question belongs to

LA 17/05 – the Local Authority carpark at Swangate.  MKO further states that ” ‘Also

a small part of the south-eastern corner falls within ‘OS Open Spaces/Recreation

& Amenity’.” Again, not true. This is the 30m ‘no’ development ‘buffer zone’ in place

to protect the national monument which, incidentally, Ghost Zapper Ltd have choosen

to ignore close to the ‘site of’ the Spittal Gate. The buffer zone is independent of the

zoning matrix. It’s a ‘no’ development area specific to one feature ONLY – to protect

the  town wall – a National Monument, both inside and out.  The present owner

of Riversdale House has respected this through the years (since 1951) and has asked

repeatedly the DoEHLG (now DoTCAGS&M) and Galway County Council to remove

the ugly concrete insertion created by a previous owner of Riversdale House in the

late 1940’s. The original stones are still there, neatly and carefully stacked.

The Adjacent Coach House to Athenry House

While the ‘Archaeological Impact Assessment’ (PDF:6.458Mb – ‘Archaeology Report’) and the ‘Architectural Heritage Impact Assessment’ (PDF: 5.783Mb – ‘Conservation Report’) both refer to part of this building being removed in the past, it still retains a close relationship to Athenry House and, most definitely does not merit demolition. It appears to be a very late questionable planning decision by Ghost Zapper as the coach house is included in the following:

PDF: 15.694Mb, p.62/162 – ‘Ecological Impact Assessment’  MKO Consultants.

QUOTE: “Stable Building : The stable building is proposed to be retained.”

PDF: 9.836Mb, p.16/22 – ‘Design Statement’  CCH Architects.

4.6.5 Athenry House

QUOTE: “Athenry House and its adjacent stable building remain the only aspect of the

proposed development, principally late 18th century, with variations dating from

the 19th century. The proposal, developed in close consultation with John Cronin &

Associates Heritage Consultants, aims to convert the house to community use. The

proposals will seek to retain the essential historic character and features of the

existing buildings”.

Worryingly however, in the important CEMP report, it would appear that Athenry House is not all that ‘stable’ and may also make contact with the wrecking ball:

PDF: 20.041Mb, – ‘Construction Environmental Management Plan’   MKO.

2.3.5 Demolition Activities

QUOTE: “The existing site contains the ruins of Athenry house. The demolition phase of the

proposed development will involve the removal of this structure within the site. The

sequencing of the demolition works will be decided by the main contractor following

detailed site survey of the buildings and surrounding area. Such a survey will provide

detail on the :

·       The condition of the building and demolition methods recommended.”

A SHORT NOTE ON THE CEMP REPORT

The ‘CEMP’ report is the go-to-document FOR ALL DEVELOPMENT PRINCIPLES relating to this specific site during the pre-commencement, construction (two phases), completion, deliverance and informing the post-deliverance mitigating issues into the future. In this planning application it is a 51 page internet PDF document, identified as follows:

PDF:  20.041Mb,  ‘Construction Environmental Management Plan’.   The CEMP report for Ghost Zapper Ltd by MKO Consultants

p5/51 – QUOTE: “The CEMP provides the environmental management framework to

be adhered to during the precommencement and construction

phases of the development and it incorporates the mitigating

principles to ensure that the work is carried out in a way that

minimises the potential for any environmental impacts to occur.

This CEMP identifies the key planning and environmental

consideration that must be adhered to and delivered during site

construction”.

p6/51 – QUOTE:  “The report is presented as a guidance document for the management

of construction activities and waste materials generated during the

works and following completion”.

There are a number of other issues with this planning application that concern me greatly and should not be treated as ‘conditions of planning’:

·       No reference to an independent qualified and licenced Archaeologist  on site, OR two, to supervise the ground works!

·       No detail of the pedestrian walkway along the Clarin river bank!

·       No intrusive development should take place inside the 30m buffer zone by the developer. This is breached in the south. As a precedent this cannot be allowed to happen.

·       A ‘site compound’ is alluded to but apart from being 50m from the river bank there is no other detail of its location. Its precise location and activities need to be established.

The inspector who ultimately has to adjudicate upon this planning application and decide on the built aspect of this development has the onerous task of satisfying the following:

1.    Is the residential/commercial design element of this planning application a complementary 21st Century expression of the existing built element within the town and how do these buildings reflect the anthropogenic-induced climatic warming that is presently upon us: a truly 21st century phenomenon vis-a-vis solar panels, EV points and bicycle stands?

2.    Could this development be presented to an architectural symposium as an example of the best possible methods in modern 21st century urban design?

3.    People visiting the town especially to view the exciting new development that has won numerous design awards!  This is what we should strive for.

4.    Will this development contribute significantly to the already local flooding problem experienced within the town and surrounding   hinterland over the past twenty-five years and, rainfall models are predicting an increase in extreme rainfall events and shorter return periods? (‘Ireland’s Climate: the road ahead’ – Summary, p.8 ; Ch. 5 ‘Climate change: impacts on Irish temperatures’, p.33 ; Ch.9 ‘Impacts of climate change on Irish precipitation’ p.57 ; Ch. 10, ‘Climate change and catchment hydrology’, p.63. Met Éireann, Dublin 2013).

5.    What constitutes the architectural character of Athenry House as a protected structure?

Finally, I had great difficulty accessing this large and important planning application online. It was received by the Planning Office on or before 2nd December.  It was not available to view online until 17th December. It was not possible to view the hard copy at the planning office despite numerous visits in person. It gave just over two weeks effectively to digest c. 1,100 pages.

I conclude my submission with the following ‘Concluding Statement’ from the 123 page ‘Natura Impact Statement’ (NIS) submitted by MKO Consultants:

PDF: 11.810Mb, p.116/123:  in relation to the ‘Clarinbridge River’, classed in  this Natura report as “an eroding upland river”.

QUOTE:

“It cannot be excluded beyond reasonable scientific doubt, in view of best scientific know-

ledge, on the basis of objective information and in light of the conservation objectives of

the relevant European sites, that the proposed development individually or in combination

with other plans and projects, would be likely to have a significant effect on Galway Bay

complex SAC (000268) and Inner Galway Bay SPA (004031). As a result an Appropriate

Assessment is required, and a Natura Impact Statement shall be prepared in respect of

the proposed development.”   (My emphasis).

Site Notice – 30/11/2021 :  “A Natura Impact Statement (NIS) has been prepared and will be submitted to the Planning Authority with the application.”  (My emphasis).

It would appear from the above that the Natura Impact Statement (NIS) has not yet been received by the Planning Authority and, when it is, it will be written by Sir Humphrey from the BBC2 television comedy ‘Yes Minister’.

Yours sincerely,

_____________________.

Dominic Monaghan.

Unbeknown to many the tool manufacturing industry in Ireland is experiencing phenomenal growth over the past decade or so. An industry largely confined to the larger industrial powers like Germany, Switzerland and the U.S. is now surpassed, in terms of quality, by Ireland. It must rank amongst the biggest success stories in Irish technological circles vis a vis how did an industry (in Ireland) make up so much ground in such a short period of time? Ireland now ranks amongst the best when it comes to toolmaking regarding the quality of its product and the speed at which it can be produced.

Athenry is now playing a role in this rapidly expanding and futuristic sector of industry. Just recently a new factory producing tooling has moved to a premises formerly Lohan’s furniture factory at Coshla, Athenry.

This company is called C&F Tooling and is jointly owned by Michael Carr and John Flaherty. Mike Carr is a native of Clarinbridge while John Flaherty is a born and bred Athenry man. John is a qualified toolmaker having served his 4 year apprenticeship at another well-known engineering establishment Byrne- Mech Ltd.

C&F was formed in 1988 and operated in Galway city. However increasing demand for their product has meant that a larger premises was required and looking around initially within Galway city the site at Coshla was brought to their attention.

The site was large enough to accommodate the expansion envisaged by John and Mike. More importantly it allowed C&F to channel finance in the direction of much needed equipment rather than paying huge sums for a site in Galway city. In such a competitive industry continual reinvestment in new equipment is essential if one wishes to be ahead of the posse.

According to John keeping ahead in terms of technology is what has made their company stand out: “We don’t wait to see what changes are going to occur in the industry elsewhere but rather we keep very close contact with our customers and suppliers alike”.

Some of the equipment on the factory floor is worth £l/4 million alone. John is presently acquiring another pressing machine from Italy worth £l/2 million. This will speed up the number of components which can be produced at the factory. The factory currently employs over 40 workers and John hopes that this figure will increase significantly by this time next year. All 40 are highly skilled and trained personnel. A measure of this skill is seen in the fact that one of C&F’s employees won the apprenticeship of the year award for toolmaking.

A very high standard is achieved in the workplace by an extremely committed and skilled workforce; a factor, which John Flaherty points out, is crucial to the success of the company. “Without this type of commitment from the lads the factory would simply not be able to function to the high standards demanded by its customers”. Each individual worker, and this includes management as well, has an important role to play.

Currently the factory produces tools (i.e. metal plates for making computer and automobile parts etc.) which it supplies to a whole host of other factories which press or make the finished product, known as the component. Previously many of these products had to be imported from Britain or the U.S. Until now C&F have just produced the tools for the customer. However they now are offering a complete service i.e. design and manufacturing of the tools and also producing the sheet metal components of the tool. They know that this is the road to take as their customers are insisting on a complete one stop shop service.

Margins are extremely tight and C&F continually reinvest any profits back into the company thus ensuring that it leads the way in technology and new machines. This trend will continue for some time. Presently, though, the company is on very sound footing and both John and Mike have a very carefully thought out strategy for future expansion and development. Careful planning and business sense will ensure that this company continues to grow thus adding greatly to the local economy. We wish John and his business partner, Mike, every success for the future in their new business operation.

Check out C & F Tooling June 2024

About four miles out on the Tuam road on the right-hand side is the entrance to Castle Ellen House, residence of the Lambert family since the beginning of the 1800s.  Castle Ellen’s historical lineage centres principally on its occupants (rather than its architecture) the most infamous of course being Sir Edward Carson whose mother, Elizabeth, was born and lived at Castle Ellen. The history surrounding the people who lived and visited the ‘big house’ has been well documented by such local historians as the late Aggie Qualter and more recently a fine historical account written by Ann Healy in the Tuam Herald some years back.  But what about the Castle Ellen of today?  The owner of Castle Ellen house prior to the present owner was a Mrs. MacNally who sold the house and surrounding property to the Land Commission in 1969.  During the 1960s and into the 1970s much of the house and outhouses have been stripped of any valuable items such as fireplaces and furniture.  The lead was taken from the roof causing untold damage in the process.  Cut stone and timber was taken away for the construction of various schools and churches.  In less than ten years, during this period, Castle Ellen was almost unrecognisable and destined for an end similar to that of Belleville, Moyode and Dunsandle.  Luckily though fortune changed just in the nick of time and Castle Ellen was saved from certain destruction.  The person responsible for this change is the present owner – Michael Keaney.

Castle Ellen was bought by Michael in the early 1970s for £4,500, a considerable sum at that time considering you could buy a car for £700-£800.  This included a house, a fine yard and about 13 acres of land, most of which is covered by forest.  Michael immediately set about restoring the big house and the extensive number of outhouses attached to it. The house was built about 1810. Perhaps lean times prevailed then as the house does not contain a lot of cut stone – a feature of houses built during this time. Instead undressed limestone with a rubble filling forms the main material in the construction of the house.  The outhouses which form the yard were built much later than the house – around the 1870s. They are impressively built of the finest cut stone and as such have survived, miraculously, intact – apart from some quoin stones taken from the entrance arch to the yard.  It appears that during the construction of the yard the fine entrance porch – of cut limestone – was added to the main house giving it added status and bringing it in line with other stately houses. In fact the contrast between this decorative ionic porch and the simple plainness of the house gives it a uniqueness all of its own.

The first item on Michael’s work list was the roof of the house, badly damaged over time by vandalism, weather and neglect by indifferent owners.  Expense required that this job was tackled over time and an indication of its cost can be got from the fact that he has only just completed this work.  The huge interior of the house is being restored on a room by room basis and it is here that much work remains to be done.  Luckily enough Michael, a civil engineer with Galway Corporation, can call on his own expertise in this regard.  Castle Ellen is a haven for all sorts of artists – be it poets, sculptors, playwrights or painters.  Many come out from Galway simply to take time out and reflect on their careers in beautiful idyllic surroundings. Many more come directly to Castle Ellen to get their ‘start’ in the artistic world and indeed Michael informs me that a number of artists have got the start they needed at Castle Ellen. They have a very enthusiastic host in Michael and rent is simply a matter of ones means to pay.  Alternatively rent may be supplemented by odd’ jobs around the yard and house particularly if one is handy at carving or stonework etc.  Castle Ellen is opened to the public by Michael,so it is in effect a public amenity and a very important one close to home.  I myself will admit that I was not aware of this until quite recently. I found it strange when I had to drive to Coole Park to enjoy similar walks and quietness to that obtained at Castle Ellen.  Indeed Castle Ellen is even more special than many contemporary estates of its period.  Firstly, it is open to the public and secondly its reason for being – the house – is still standing as spectacular as ever today.

Michael is well aware of the historical value attached to Castle Ellen and this explains largely why he is so keen in maintaining and restoring many of its features.  Recently he renovated one of the outhouses and use sit as a small museum, but much work remains to be done here.  A particular item which Michael has in his possession deserves special mention here.Sometime ago Michael wrote to the Northern Secretary – Sir Paddy Mayhew inviting him down to Castle Ellen. Michael stressed to Paddy the links of Castle Ellen with northern unionism and in particular that of Sir Edward Carson.  He outlined the role Castle Ellen could play in the important peace process taking place at present.  Michael expected nothing more to come from this until about a week later a letter arrived from Hillsborough,Co. Down.  The Northern Secretary’s reply was swift and he outlined in it his reasons why he could not come although he acknowledged that the importance of the place was quite significant regarding the present impasse in the peace process, Nothing greatly unusual in this you might say except it was a reply from the Northern Secretary but the reply was written not in the Queen’s own language but ‘as gaeilge’.

Michael informs me that visitors are welcome to Castle Ellen to walk around, relax and browse about.  The best visiting times are Monday to Friday between 11 am and 4 pm.  Unfortunately, or fortunately as the case may be, Michael himself works Monday to Friday and so the weekend is devoted to essential maintenance and on going construction work, work which he is unable to carry out during the week.  So he would appreciate if people would hold out on week-ends for the present.  A guide is available Monday to Friday for the above hours.  There is no charge as such but a voluntary donation would be very much appreciated.  A box for this purpose is located just inside the main door of the house. Michael receives a tiny, insignificant tax relief on raw materials used for the house, for opening his house to the public.  All restoration work is funded entirely out of Michael’s own pocket and he has to pay a guide and provide accommodation for budding artists.  Finally, while in the house, have a look at the fine mirrors and particularly the beautiful double stairway leading down to the main hall.

Children from Carnaun School visit Castle Ellen House

A puzzling feature within is the number of small school desks neatly packed in rows along the hallway.  This may stem from its use as a temporary school while Carnaun was being repaired.  Perhaps some of the readers of this article have pleasant memories of childhood days at Castle Ellen.

This article was originally published in the Athenry Journal and appears here with the kind permission of the editor Mr. Finbarr O’Regan.