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Thursday 17 October 2019

Sorry state of neglect

Treatment of house gifted to the nation ‘a disgrace’

Sister Pauline McShain outside her former home Killarney House
Sister Pauline McShain outside her former home Killarney House
Sr Pauline with her parents John and Mary McShain, who gave the house and grounds to the State
John McShain, who was a prominent building contractor in the US, with the late American President Franklin D Roosevelt

Anne Lucey

The daughter of US philanthropists who gave their historic house and grounds to the State has branded the neglect of the property a disgrace.

John and Mary McShain intended that Killarney House and much of its parkland would be enjoyed and appreciated by thousands of visitors and tourists.

But 10 years after they made the gift, their only daughter, Sister Pauline McShain, based in Philadelphia, said her parents would be "heartbroken" to see how the government has allowed the house to fall apart and be occupied by squatters.

Her father, the man who built the US Pentagon and the builder behind the re-construction of the modern-day White House, had greatly loved the house, she said.

Disillusioned

And she has demanded a meeting with Environment Minister John Gormley over the embarrassing neglect, which, she says, has left her "sad and disillusioned" with the Irish Government.

"My parents restored and beautified Killarney House. It is a treasure. It should be the centre of Killarney National Park. But it's falling into ruin," she said yesterday.

A spokesman for Mr Gormley said last night he was "very concerned" at the prospect of such a national resource being ruined but claimed he did not have "the millions required" for the renovation.

The minister would, however, look at other sources of funding, including the National Lottery and cash from dormant accounts funds, the spokesman said.

The deterioration of the historic building, part of a French- style house which was home to the Earls of Kenmare, was raised in the Seanad by Fine Gael Senator Paul Coghlan.

Yesterday, he criticised the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of the Environment for refusing to endorse Killarney House "as a tourism project of international standing" -- which would allow cash from the National Development Plan.

Last week, the mayor of Killarney, Niall O'Callaghan, confirmed that squatters had taken up residence . He has twice written to Minister Gormley, who has responsibility for funding the historic building.

John McShain was one of the biggest building contractors in the US. He died in Killarney in 1989 and his wife, Mary Horstmann McShain, died there in 1998.

They bought the estate in the 1950s. From the early 1970s, the McShains began gifting many of the priceless gems which now form the Killarney National Park, including two of the lakes and the medieval monastic island of Inisfallen, and the historic Ross Castle.

Priceless

Later, for a nominal sum, they handed over thousands of acres of woodland and pasture while retaining life tenancy of Killarney House. The last remaining 21 acres were given to the State just two years ago. Yesterday, Sr McShain said her parents would be "heartbroken" to see the house they had loved and restored so neglected.

To see the paint peeling off the walls was a "disgrace".

The family had been told by the Government the house would be restored. She was "horrified" that squatters were living in it.

"We had hoped it would be opened to the public and to tourists who also could enjoy it as we had for over 40 years," she said.

A statement from the Department of the Environment and the NPWS said "essential works" were under way in consultation with the Office of Public Works, to avoid any deterioration to the fabric of the building.

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