Friday 19 July 2019

1798 Centre sale in shock collapse

The 1798 Centre in Enniscorthy
The 1798 Centre in Enniscorthy

Pádraig Byrne

A deal for the sale of the National 1798 Centre has sensationally collapsed at the final hour. Plans were at an extremely advanced stage for the landmark building to be purchased by John Stafford of Slaney Farms in Tomnalossett, who had intended to convert the building into a distillery for his latest venture, Jackford Irish Potato Gin. While staff at the 1798 Centre had already begun moving some items into boxes ahead of the closure of the building, District Manager Liz Hore last week confirmed that the deal was now off after Mr Stafford had 'decided not to pursue' the purchase.

In April of this year, Wexford County Council had voted in favour of the sale of the centre to Mr Stafford for a sum of €325,000. He had outlined ambitious plans for the Arnold's Cross building to house his state of the art distillery, along with a visitor's centre, which it was hoped would continue to attract tourists.

A deal had been agreed to keep the 1798 Centre open for the current tourist season and, since the sale was approved, District Manager Liz Hore had been frantically trying to find a temporary home for the historical exhibition until Enniscorthy's new multi-million euro tourism strategy came to fruition. However, now Ms Hore's work seems to have been in vain, as she was informed at the last minute that Mr Stafford had pulled out of the deal, meaning that the centre will be staying put for the foreseeable future.

Ms Hore says that she had not been told the reason for the collapse of the deal and when contacted in relation to the matter, Mr Stafford said: 'I have no comment to make on it just at the moment.' It is unclear whether Mr Stafford plans on setting up his distillery elsewhere in the area, or whether his award-winning gin will continue to be distilled in Cork.

'We were just about to start dismantling the exhibitions when the call came through,' said Ms Hore. 'Some of the books and smaller stuff had already been packed into boxes. Thankfully, we hadn't taken any of the big stuff down.'

Despite what must have been major disappointment, Ms Hore remained upbeat about the situation.

'The situation now is that the 1798 Centre will remain open,' she said. 'Obviously, we will be looking to bring the 1798 exhibition into the town centre as part of Enniscorthy's tourism package going forward, but, for now it will continue to operate as normal.'

Cllr Johnny Mythen, who was vocal in his opposition to the sale, believes that these circumstances may now provide a 'second chance' for the 1798 Centre.

'I suppose it gives us a lifeline,' he said. 'This is another opportunity to really promote the 1798 Centre properly. There was always a split between the Castle and the 1798 Centre. They brought in a PR person for the Castle and that type of thing. The same opportunity was not given to the 1798 Centre.'

'At this stage,' Cllr Mythen added. 'I think we need to face the reality that it's not going to be sold and look at what we can do with the centre and give it a chance. Honestly, I think it's one of the best displays of its kind that I've seen.'

Enniscorthy Guardian