Distraught members of the Aughrim community have called on Wicklow County Council to purchase the iconic Lawless’s Hotel after photographs emerged online showing the vandalism of the historic landmark.
With windows smashed, doors unhinged, walls graffitied and detritus littering the floor, the damage inflicted on the property has sparked renewed calls from the public for the protection and conservation of the beloved building.
This latest development comes just months after the Aughrim community raised concerns about the sale of memorabilia from the hotel.
Disgusted by the recent vandalism, the Aughrim community have begun to mobilise once more, with local history buff Irene Kinsella spearheading the campaign for the council to buy the hotel, by Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) if necessary.
Having organised a public meeting back in October, Ms Kinsella believes that the community’s desire for a resolution feels “even greater than before”. She highlighted a change.org petition that has collected 550 signatures in just five days as evidence of that renewed momentum.
“Like everyone else, when I saw the carnage posted on social media over the past week, I felt that sense of frustration and anger brewing again,” Ms Kinsella began. “At least something good has come from that aggravation. Momentum is building in the Aughrim community again. The people around here remember what that beautiful hotel looked like back in its glory days and, seeing it now, it’s just breaking their hearts.
“Listen, we’re not under any illusions. We know that if there’s something that can be done here, it’s going to take a hell of a lot of pushing – it could take years.
“When we raised the issues with before Christmas, it got parked for a little while and interest died down a bit. In hindsight, when I arranged that first public meeting to discuss the sale of the memorabilia, in the back of my mind I was always thinking: ‘There’s not a whole lot we can do here’.
“I thought maybe we could push Wicklow County Council to put a CPO on it, but the more I thought about it, the more I didn’t want to speak about it,” she continued. “I just didn’t know how the community would feel, because I couldn’t be sure what the Council would do with the hotel if they actually managed to buy it.
“This time, if we knew that a purchase was a genuine possibility, and that the community could have a say in what’s done with it, that would be a proposition a lot of people would get behind. It could be restored as is, redeveloped into a new hotel or used as a community resource. Whatever it may be, anything is better than watching it sit there and rot.”
For a time, Lawless's was one of Wicklow's best-known hotels. Steeped in history, parts of the building date back as far as 1787. The hotel was famously gutted by fire in 2009, with the flames consuming centuries of Aughrim heritage, and leaving only the front façade remaining largely intact.
Ownership of the hotel has passed through many hands over the course of its long and illustrious history. In more recent history it was owned by Pat Phelan, then Seoirse O’Toole, before it came to Kilmacanogue builder-developer Joe Whyte in 2005.
When Joe passed away, ownership of the hotel was reportedly passed to his daughter Melissa Whyte Gass, who is believed to live in Hampshire, Illinois in the US. Lawless’s closed its doors prior to the pandemic.
While acknowledging that the private ownership of the property presents a myriad of issue for the local authority, Ms Kinsella said that she will leave no stone unturned in search of a solution.
Asked about the role she sees Wicklow County Council playing in the future of Lawless’s, Ms Kinsella pointed to the impending Arklow to Shillelagh Greenway, which runs through Aughrim, as a potential catalyst for change.
“It’s going to bring more people into the community here and the Council are well aware that we don’t have the facilities in place to support the Greenway,” Ms Kinsella continued. “I’ll be hoping to touch base with as many community groups and committees as possible to drum up some support, and if we can all press home that fact, maybe we can get things progressing.
“We’ll get organised first and put something more official in place, to say that we’re not giving up on this. I already started a petition on change.org called ‘Make Lawless’s Hotel Great Again – Calling for Compulsory Purchase Order’, which has hundreds of signatures so far.
“We’ll be writing to Local Community Development Committees (LCDCs) and the Council, and will probably host another public meeting. Cllr Pat Kennedy, fair play to him, came to our first meeting, so I hope he comes to the next. He said the Council’s hands were tied at the last meeting, but we hope to have a lot more weight behind us this time.”
Reacting to the new photographs and the Aughrim community’s second wind, Cathaoirleach of Arklow Municipal District, Cllr Pat Kennedy said: “It would be so fantastic to see it back as a hotel again. It used to be such a landmark location in Aughrim – it was the place for weddings.
"Rural south Wicklow needs all the accommodation it can get at the moment and Aughrim in particular is going to need that hotel to be operating again.
“The village is getting a big tourism product over the next number of years, in the Arklow to Shillelagh Greenway, so I agree there’s going to be even more demand for accommodation there.
"I would like to see Lawless’s back as a hotel, and would wholeheartedly encourage anyone who is interested in developing it to contact the owners.
“Whether it’s a new party or the current owners, either way, the village of Aughrim needs that hotel back.”