Tuesday 15 April 2008

Plan for houses on ground of Connemara hotel defended

BALLYNAHINCH CASTLE Hotel in Connemara has defended its plans to build six houses on the grounds of the estate.

The objections focus on the adverse impact the proposal would have on a sensitive habitat, on woodlands and on the Ballynahinch lake system, with its populations of wild salmon and Arctic char.

The six houses are planned as two groups of three on separate sites at opposite ends of the estate, which is owned by an Irish, British and US consortium.

The four-star hotel in the shadow of the Twelve Bens mountain range derives its name from a medieval castle built a mile to the northwest which was associated with the O'Flaherty clan and Grace O'Malley.

Ballynahinch Castle general manager Patrick O'Flaherty said the hotel had recently invested €1.5 million in upgrading heating systems to make it carbon neutral.

The new plan for six houses for visitors would have minimal environmental impact, he added, and would be far more beneficial than an extension to the existing building.

However, objectors including Ballynahinch Lakeside Ltd and Ann Corcoran, state that one of the two sites is within 480 metres of Ballynahinch lake, 130 metres of the Ballynahinch river and within 200 metres of Killeen lake.

They state that discharges from the accommodation units would contribute to deterioration of the local aquatic environment, particularly during the summer months when water levels tend to be low.

They also argue that both sites are within a natural heritage area and one site abuts the Connemara bog complex, a candidate for special area of conservation status.

Dispersing the houses on two sites would increase the environmental impact, the objectors argue, as works would involve clearing woodland and disturbing wildlife. They state that no record of consultation with the National Parks and Wildlife Service has been presented with the two planning applications.

Mr O'Flaherty said the parks and wildlife service had been contacted and he had walked the areas in question with its officials.

It was the hotel which had sought from the EU protective environmental status for the Ballynahinch catchment, he said, and he and his son had recently planted the estate's 1,000th oak tree under new planting.

A initial proposal to build houses on another part of the site had been abandoned when it was confirmed to be within special area of conservation boundaries, he said.

"Discretion is the first order here and we are not going to do anything that is going to have an adverse impact on what Ballynahinch represents in Connemara."

The hotel contributed €1.5 million annually in payroll costs alone to the local economy, Mr O'Flaherty said, and ran successfully in a highly competitive tourism environment. The six houses were part of its long-term plan to ensure that it continued to thrive, he said.

Galway County Council is due to make a decision on the two planning applications next month.

The house is believed to have dated from the 1660s. It was a centre for smuggling activities before it was converted to an inn in the 18th century by Richard Martin, father of Humanity Dick Martin.

It was transformed into a "gentleman's residence" by Humanity Dick, founder of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, in 1813.

Celebrated visitors over the years have included writer Maria Edgeworth, who referred to it unkindly in 1833 as a "dilapidated mansion with nothing of a castle about it", and Maharajah Ranjitsinhji, also known as the "Ranji".

Alterations in the 19th and 20th centuries have left few traces of the original house.

The Irish Times


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