FOUR years of “hard work” were celebrated by President Michael D Higgins when he officially opened the restored Nenagh Castle last Wednesday.
“It is 40 years since its first restoration and today we celebrate four years of hard work to restore it as a tourism attraction,” he told the gathering of OPW officials, TDs, local politicians, business people and members of the original committee who had put forward the idea of restoring the Norman site.
“I came here in 1996 and encouraged the purchase of the castle. I am full of admiration for the architects who worked on it and am amazed at the state of the work. I am delighted to be standing in the keep and within the castle grounds landscaped by the town council,” he said.
President Higgins said the castle’s restoration, which cost E1.6m, can be shared and enjoyed by people from all over the world.
Referring to the castle’s development in the 13th century by Baron Butler, he said it had laid the foundation for the development of Nenagh and now became part of a “close knit cultural hub, proudly taking its place alongside Nenagh Arts Centre, Nenagh Courthouse, Nenagh Gaol and some of the town’s beautiful churches”.
The President said all of these provided the critical mass that allowed Nenagh to become a significant tourist attraction.
“This restoration and rejuvenation of a prized historical building is something that connects you all with your past and with each other. It is something in which you can take collective pride and something which will provide an authentic link between contemporary Nenagh and its rich and varied past,” he said.
The President went on to refer how old buildings and historic spaces such as Nenagh Castle tell us a great deal about our antecedents, about where we came from and about how our society evolved.
“You may not have lived here, but it was your hands that built it,” he pointed out.
“I am deeply impressive to see the pride you share in the bringing to fruition of this project,” said President Higgins before declaring the castle open.
Earlier, Minister of State for the OPW Brian Hayes said that, from the 1990s the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht had been “hugely committed” to the project. “It is a fantastic site.”
He said the OPW had a responsibility to preserve and maximise the opportunities for the public to view such sites and that the restored castle will help the town and county to present themselves as a site for tourism.
Deputy Hayes said that in 1336 an important peace treaty had been signed in the castle between the O’Kennedys and the Ormonds. That treaty was presented to US President John F Kennedy when he visited Ireland in 1963 and is now in the JFK Library in Massachusetts.
The ceremony was compared by OPW chair Claire McGrath, whose own speech was not delivered because of a thunder storm and torrential rain that left the newly-planted grounds looking like a battlefield as rain washed the soil on to the gravel path.