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Centre to transform Ballycroy

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Minister Dick Roche turning the sod at the Ballycroy Visitor Centre
HELPING HANDS Colm Calvey (left) and Stephen Grealis give some support to Minister Dick Roche when he turned the sod at the Ballycroy Visitor Centre last Thursday (More pictures next week). Grianghraf: Cormac Ó Cionnaith

Visitor centre to transform Ballycroy

Anton McNulty

LOCALS had waited ten years for the moment, so waiting another hour for Minister Dick Roche to arrive for the official sod-turning of the Ballycroy National Park Visitor Centre did not bother them in the slightest.
It was a moment many people in Ballycroy did not believe would arrive, but on Thursday last the whole area turned out to see ten years of work, planning and meetings come to fruition. The new visitor centre will cost €3.8m and will be constructed on a site of 42 hectares, overlooking Achill Island, with the completion date set for April 2008. The modern, state-of-the-art building, measuring 650 square metres, will include reception and exhibition areas on ground level, a tea room, education area and a viewing platform.
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Dick Roche TD said the extraordinary centre was testament to the skill and tenacity of the people involved. It would allow people the opportunity to really appreciate this part of the country and would be a valuable addition to the people of Ballycroy.
The centre will be built using sustainable energy methods which will include solar panels for electricity and ground source heat pumps, and will be built into the hill, thereby providing a high level of insulation with reduced energy costs. Minister Roche praised the work done by the OPW and said energy efficient houses will be part of the future.
He spoke of the importance of the centre in telling the history and culture of the area and this story will be told by the exhibition area in the centre.
“This centre is very important for people to come here and appreciate the landscape and the setting. It is just as important when you look around at the amount of villages and the stories to be told by the landscape and the people who shaped it. I would encourage the interpretation to include the people and their relationship with the local folklore and farming methods and how the people lived for generations. This will allow visitors from near and far to experience the wonderful atmosphere and beauty of the landscape,” said Minister Roche.
The Ballycroy National Park was established in 1998 and consists of almost 12,000 hectares of some of the most important blanket bog in Europe. Minister Roche said it was important that this blanket bog was preserved and he said he hoped that the Golden Eagle which was seen in the National Park would flourish in the area.
Willie Sweeney, a member of the Ballycroy Working Group, who were instrumental in getting a visitor centre for Ballycroy, told The Mayo News he was delighted that the centre was going ahead. He said it would help transform Ballcroy.
“We are hoping there will be 40,000 visitors coming here every year and it will change the future of Ballycroy for years to come. We have worked hard for this and I am delighted this day has come. I doubted a few times [it would happen] and was worried that the centre would be diverted to somewhere else. It is now up to the people to use the spin-offs to make a living and make Ballycroy a better place to live in. We have been hounded down the years with emigration and we are now hoping to bring young people back to the area,” said Willie.