SPECTACULAR SETTING Pictured is the inside of the Air Dome at Vaasa in Finland that resembles what the Connacht GAA air dome will look like when completed later this year.
THE world’s largest air dome that is used for a sporting purpose could be open for business before the end of the year — in East Mayo!
The Connacht GAA Council recently unveiled their ambitious plans for a €3m indoor arena at their headquarters in Bekan, outside Ballyhaunis.
And weather-permitting, the giant air dome — which will contain a full-sized GAA field, gym, testing area and office space, boasting dimensions of 150 metres x 100 metres — will be finished before next Christmas.
That’s according to Connacht GAA Council secretary, John Prenty, who is the main driving force behind the project.
Speaking to The Mayo News, Prenty revealed that planning permission for an indoor arena of that size had been secured 13 years ago, but the idea of an air dome was a more recent development.
“We have it in our heads since about 2007 to build some kind of an indoor facility here, and the priority from day one was to get the pitches and the building up, and see what we could do after that,” explained Prenty.
“The cost of building something like that would be huge, so we looked at other options. This time last year we went to Queens Park Rangers to look at their air dome, we had firstly gone to see the one used by Castlebar Tennis Club, and than Cathal Cregg and I went to Finland at the beginning of this year to see the one there.
“We had made an application to the Rural Regeneration Fund, Michael Ring’s department, and we got €2.1m towards the cost of the dome. So it’s all systems go now.”
"It will not prove a burden on counties and the provinces," he added
"The day it is opened it will be paid for. We won't be going to the bank.
“It will be paid out of GAA resources. There are not too many others in the country that can say that they've kept within the budget.”
The weather-proof facility, with a roof height of 26 metres, will be able to accommodate at least 600 spectators.
This opens the possibility of it playing host to inter-county games during the winter, such as FBD League matches or post-primary schools fixtures.
The giant dome also meets all the criteria for hosting inter-county GAA fixtures, namely the pitch dimensions (which are identical to MacHale Park, Castlebar) and ability to cater for spectators.
“The minimum dimensions of a full-size pitch is 130m x 80m, and we can fit into that comfortably,” said Prenty.
“So we’re ready for business once we open up.
“We have 600 seats in the plans at the moment, but there is more than enough room to put in many more if the need arises.
“It’s an exciting development for us and we’re looking forward to being up and running by the end of the year.
Prenty and his colleagues at the provincial council have a specific target date in mind for the opening of the air dome, as there is a special anniversary they would love to mark in style this year.
“The Connacht Council was set up on December 2, 1902 and that’s the notional date we have in our heads,” admitted the Ballyhaunis native.
“The only thing that should stop that is bad weather, storms or that, because obviously you can’t put a tent up when it could end up down at Knock Airport when you find it.
“But we’d be confident that if we could the weather this winter that we got last winter, we’d be indoors for Christmas. Santa Claus would be here!”