Plan to turn Ballymote Corn Mill into a major tourism attraction
Work is to start in Ballymote within the coming months on what may eventually become one of the country's major national and international flagship tourism attractions.
The €4m project will see the restoration of the old corn mill, built at Keenaghan in 1795 by Sir Jocelyn Gore-Booth.
When completed, possibly by 2012, it's planned that the project will include a Transport Museum where a set of 10 original Bianconi coaches will be publicly displayed for the first time ever, as well as a Paddy Killoran Room, a memorial and tribute the great Ballymote traditional musician.
Also planned is a memorial display to Carrowkeel native, Brigadier General Michael Corcoran, of the famed American 'Fighting Irish' 69th Regiment, together with a collection of 69th Regiment memorabilia that is currently on display in Collins Barracks in Dublin.
The Taaffe Family History Room will feature a history and
information collection on the Taaffe Family of Ballymote Castle.
There will also be a tourist visitor centre as well as craft shops, a restaurant and ancillary facilities.
The restoration of the old mill is being carried out by the Ballymote Enterprise Company under the direction of its chairman, Deputy John Perry.
The mill survived until 1941 when it was destroyed by fire. It is now listed as a protected building.
Deputy Perry described the project as "a very exciting development for the town of Ballymote and indeed the northwest region as a whole."
He added: "This flagship tourist attraction will provide an enormous boost to tourism and to the wider economy in County Sligo. As well as the feature of the newly restored mill itself, it will encompass much of the diverse and unique history of this region of the county," Deputy Perry said.
Despite the current downturn in the economy, he vowed that the project would be delivered for Ballymote, saying now was a good time to do it because, in recessionary times, costs were lower.
In addition, he pointed out that Ballymote Enterprise Company was a limited company with charitable status.
"If this was a State agency doing this, it wouldn't be done now," he said.
As an example of the scale of the work and its potential for Ballymote, even just during construction phase, Deputy Perry revealed how it involved making over 100 windows, all of which would be made in a workshop in the town.
"The windows alone would cost €100,000 if we had to buy them," he said.
The Bianconi coaches have a close connection to the local area, with the original set having been donated to the State by the O'Hara family of nearby Annaghmore in 1952.
Deputy Perry says he has now secured the return of these coaches to Ballymote from the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, and he went on to pay tribute to the director of the Museum, Dr. Pat Wallace.
"These Bianconi coaches were the original mode of public transport prior to the establishment of the country's rail network, and were introduced by Charles Bianconi in about 1815," Deputy Perry said, adding that there was a wealth of other local material in storage in the National Museum, to which, he hoped, a link might be established with Ballymote.
Deputy Perry said the Corn Mill restoration would bring the mill back into use as a tourist attraction that would respect the history of the building and its importance to the Town of Ballymote. It would also would preserve for future generations an image of the past in a contemporary context, where old functions were recognised but also allow new functions within a suitable environment.
In addition, the project would also provide a much needed employment boost in the current difficult economic conditions, Deputy Perry said.
He complimented the project design and management architect, James Drew, and his company for his work in designing and planning this restoration project.
"Ballymote, South Sligo and the wider region can look forward to a truly unique and flagship attraction upon completion of the restoration of Ballymote Corn Mill," Deputy Perry said.
Phase 1 of the restoration work is due to commence in the coming months.
Two weeks ago, Sligo County Council granted conditional planning permission to Ballymote Community Enterprise Ltd for the work.