Savannah exhibit for Dunbrody Centre

David Looby

A new Savannah exhibition at the Dunbrody Experience Famine tour is due to open in the coming months, adding to the attraction's offering.

CEO Sean Connick said people will leave the Famine ship and arrive into 'Savannah', in the latest expansion phase of the visitor centre, which attracted just under 70,000 people last year.

'You will step onto the Savannah quayside in the mid-1800s. This latest phase of the centre's expansion has come out of the Savannah Access, which was established in 2013. Now, for the first time, we are able to showcase the Savannah side of the story.'

Mr Connick said Savannah historians and colleges are supporting the access's efforts. 'The Dunbrody sailed to Savannah on five occasions and we have some great Wexford stories to tell. We have a ten point integrated action plan and when this phase is completed we have eight more phases to go.'

Mr Connick said the plan will be completed phase by phase, subject to funding being allocated.

The Irish America Hall of Fame was upgraded last year in the first phase of works. 'We have ambitious plans which have come on the back of trips I have taken and by gauging customer's needs.'

Wexford Local Development has assisted the Dunbrody Experience centre through providing Leader funding, while Fáilte Ireland has also been very supportive of the centre's expansion plans. 'We are really appreciative of the funding. The JFK Trust board and staff recognise the great work Fáilte Ireland has been doing around the peninsula from here to Loftus Hall, to Hook Lighthouse and to Tintern Abbey. There are some great synergies.'

The JFK Trust board are aiming to attract 250,000 people to New Ross and district over the coming years. The Dunbrody centre attracted 69,500 people on its tour in 2018, with a further 9,500 visiting the Kennedy Homestead in Dunganstown.

'That's not including people going to the cafe. We are continuing to grow. We have had a recent assistance from Fáilte Ireland and there are a number of issues we have identified that are being funded.'

These include new front doors and entrance and the painting of the centre. This follows a €250,000 spend on refurbishing the famine ship in early 2018.

Plans to expand the centre's story offering into Murphy's furniture building on the quay are ready to be developed, subject to funding.

'We are in for the funding application. Our future plan would open the development further, linking with St Mary's Church and expanding our story to incorporate the William Marshall story and the Normans. We're looking at a modern facility with a modern exhibition space which could be used for travelling exhibitions. We are not in a position to host these exhibitions currently as we don't have the facilities.'

A local development group incorporating Destination New Ross and New Ross Municipal District council are also advancing the plans. 'We are seeking funding from Fáilte Ireland. That was superseded by the Rural Regeneration Fund. Wexford County Council has made applications for the four towns.'

Describing the opening of a visitor centre on the quay as key to the town's future as a tourism destination, Mr Connick said: 'It links the Dunbrody, bringing in St Mary's, The High Hill and the business incubation centre at the top of John Street.'

He said: 'There are always challenges. We are watching Brexit and what's happening in America very closely. These are anxious times.'

The number of British visitors to the famine ship rose slightly last year compared to 2017, despite the fact all of the Dublin tourist attractions recorded a fall in British numbers, he said. The majority of tour ticket paying visitors hail from America, France and Germany.

In preparation for a hard Brexit, Mr Connick and the centre's management team are looking at their budgets. Addressing the possibility of a hard Brexit and a fall in British tourists arriving to the centre, Mr Connick said: 'It could take 10 per cent off our future expectations. We are hoping common sense prevails and that some sort of structured withdrawal can be arranged.'

New Ross Standard