Wednesday 21 August 2019

Regional digital hub proposal for Coláiste Iosagáin

Latest vision for the long-idle Baile Bhúirne Landmark encompasses smart tech and education

Planning permission is being sought for a multi-million euro regional digital hub to be developed on the site of the long derelict Coláiste Íosagáin on the N22 in Baile Bhúirne.

Gaeltacht development agency Udarás na Gaeltachta is seeking planning permission for the first phase of the development which would see the transformation of the former secondary school and 75 direct jobs with the potential for 45 indirect positions.

The masterplan also envisages at least 45 new start-up companies being generated by the hub as well as supplementing existing limited remote working and training options.

All this combined would add considerably to the 320 fulltime jobs in Údarás-supported ventures in the Baile Bhúirne estate.

Apart from the replacing of the roof in the early noughties, at a reported cost approaching €500,000, little has been done to the site in the meantime and parts of it are overgrown and the building itself vandalised with broken windows and graffiti. The front of the site has housed the annual Cúil Aodha/Baile Bhúirne show for the past three years.

The actual development work in the first phase for which planning permission is being sought focuses on the centre and front of the iconic building, so long a landmark on the main road between Cork and Killarney.

It will include the development of an exhibition hall where the dining hall used to be, and flexible work spaces in former classrooms. A training room is being envisaged for the first floor. Other works include the installation of an elevator and new stairs to ensure the building is accessible, new gates and boundary walls and car parking space.

In February of this year funding was secured to enable the development of a master plan for the building.

This work was led by Údarás na Gaeltachta involved agencies such as Fáilte Ireland, Skillsnet, Cork Education and Training Board, Cork County Council and local co-op, Comharchumann Forbartha Mhuscraí.

Also involved were CIT and UCC as further education remains an option for the development of the building.

While €180,000 was secured for this initial work, the cost for the first phase of the project is estimated at between €2m and €3m. The Údarás is aiming at funds such as the Rural Regeneration Development Fund and its own resources to finance the project.

For more than half a century between the end of the 1930s and the mid 1990s Coláiste Íosagáin had been renowned as a boarding school, counting among its past pupils GAA commentator Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh and many greats from the Cork and Kerry teams of the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s such as Mick O'Dwyer and John O'Driscoll. In February 1989 the De La Salle order announced it would be leaving the college after half a century of teaching pupils at the secondary school.

The building was sold to the Kavanagh brothers in Fermoy who had plans to transform it into a nursing home or hotel.

The costs associated with the necessary work to transform the building from a secondary school into a luxury hotel or well-appointed nursing home proved too much and the building was sold to Údarás na Gaeltachta for reputedly the same price it had been sold by the De La Salle order, approximately £215,000.

In 1999 the then education minister Michael Woods TD turned the sod on an ambitious plan to develop the college as the home of a new national centre for Irish Medium Education and an interpretive centre for the work of composer Seán Ó Riada.

These plans met with resistance from Irish medium education groups in Conamara and Dublin who wanted the national Irish medium education centre to be located 'more centrally'.

Eventually that proposal was shelved and there has been no progress on the development of a national Irish medium education centre anywhere.

In 2013, after a bid to turn it into a training centre for international workers foundered when the Trident Safety Group said they would buy the building for a 'nominal sum', the Údarás sought expressions of interest from companies who might buy the building.

Parts of the site have already been developed as the College's playing fields now house the local GAA club, Naomh Abán, and a thriving industrial estate which includes the Folláin jam and preserves company as well as Irish Independent Health Food distributors, Somex and Feoil na Fleisce (Flesk Meats).