Further €1m being sought to develop ‘Emigrant Garden’ balcony and centre
A €750,000 revamp – and major rebrand of the Dunbrody Experience visitor centre in New Ross, is planned this year.
The centre – which has between 45,000 and 70,000 visitors each year, received around €1.25m in funding in 2019 under the Rural regeneration fund – which saw €9m granted for the town (including Wexford County Council match funding contributions).
Almost half of the funding was used to refurbish the replica Famine ship, with the remainder set aside for the upgrade of the entire downstairs of the facility.
"Two of the component parts of that are now complete: The Hill Hill Medieval Park and the ship, costing around €2.5m between them,” said John F Kennedy Trust and Dunbrody centre, CEO Sean Connick.
He said work will begin on a €750,00 refit of the reception area of the Dunbrody visitor centre this year, all going well.
"We are just about to appoint a design consultant for a refit of the visitor experience. It’s badly needed. It’s been out for tender over recent months. I hope that by mid-February the team will be appointed.”
An upgrade of the visitor experience in the hallways is planned.
"It will be in keeping with the story of the Famine and New Ross in the 1840s and 1850s. We’ve some really clever ideas about what we are going to do. The reception area will be modernised.”
The second phase of the upgrade of the Dunbrody was opened by Leo Varadkar and Michael Flatley in 2011.
"In the meantime we have reviewed the overall visitor journey downstairs, from the time they come through the door to when they go out onto the ship and when they come back in off the ship.
“Apart from that the retail and retail offering new treatment. We are really excitement about this.”
He said the works will enhance the visitor experience.
"When people go on holiday they want a couple of wow moments when they do a tour. That’s what we want to achieve. You’ll be surprised as you go through before you go onto the ship and as you come back in.”
He said many people may not have been at the centre since 2011.
“We would be hopeful that people will come back and see the improved experience. We also want to improve the retail offering. What we have successfully done in the restaurant is we have created a local business. We have business in the restaurant in January when we have very little business with the ship. That’s purely because the visitors are simply not there. The retail is an area we feel we can really improve on and develop into a growing business.
Bespoke products are planned.
"A recent upgrade to Mount Congreve has been very successful and we want to also life the overall retail experience for customers. We will work with all of the various groups to produce products which are bespoke to the story we’re telling, but at the same time there will be a higher end product to create that footfall.
“We will have a product range that won’t be available anywhere else in the world.”
One area which has lagged is the extension.
"We are excited we got a grant for the garden and the boardwalk under a second Rural Regeneration Fund. However, for some reason – even though it’s a really strong application – we were excluded in the grant aid. Only a partial amount of the ask was granted.”
The €1m needed for the rooftop extension of the centre has yet to be approved.
"It would be disappointing to do the garden and not do the Dunbrody. The application was very strong in that it married the two. There was a scenario where you had a lovely balcony area overlooking the garden and service facilities for the people of the town: improved public facilities (toilets etc) and offices for staff here).”
He said the Norman visitor centre’s development did not impact the application, as it’s a separate funding stream.
"The €9m saw €1.5m for the Dunbrody, €1.5m for The High Hill and €6m for the Norman centre.”
He is hopeful there will be movement on the Murphy and old bank buildings by early next year.
"It needs to get designed and hopefully it can open in 2025. There is the greenway and Seamus Walsh has purchased a site opposite us.
"I think that will be key for the tourism development of the town. It’s a really important site and I am looking forward to speaking to Seamus about it because it ties in perfectly with the opening of the greenway and the development of New Ross as a tourist town.”