A leading Connemara archaeologist is trying to scupper the plans of billionaire businessman Denis O’Brien who wants to carry out works on a 16th century tower adjacent to Ballynahinch Castle near Recess.
It has been suggested that the stone works on the tower be secured on the island on which it is located should be excluded from tourist access and “left to nature”.
But archaeologist Erin Gibbins, in her submission to county planners, suggests that it may be transformed into a tourist facility and used for commercial purposes.
Denis O’Brien acquired Ballynahinch Castle four years ago. The castle itself is located on a small island, Castle Island, and not far from the main N59 Galway to Clifden road.
The General Manager of Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, Patrick O’Flaherty, has applied to Galway County Council for works to be carried out on the tower house.
It is stated in the application that with the consent of the National Monuments Service, there was careful removal of ivy from the structure and consolidation works have been carried out to the tower house and lodge to ensure the stability of the structures.
The tower is a three-storey structure but no roofs or ceilings remain and there was extensive ivy growth which is said to add to its decay.
It is stated in the application that the primary intention is to halt any further decay and make it safe for occasional visitors.
It is the intention of the owner to preserve the tower house in a state comparable to its existing state and with public safety in mind.
O’Brien, who bought Ballynahinch Castle for €6.5 million in 2013, wants to preserve the three-storey tower house by adding a zinc roof and inserting a new first floor level. He also wants to reinstate a natural slate roof and stone floors to an adjoining fishing lodge.
Respected archaeologist Erin Gibbons refers to heavy scaffolding at the site which has remained in place for over two and half years despite objections. She also alleges in her opposition to the application that works have been carried out without permission.
She has asked Galway County Council the reason for the proposed works to the roof and interior of the structure are being applied for.
“Why are there no archaeological mitigations listed in the application to ensure that the archaeological deposits within the area of the medieval castle be protected?
“This is not adequate given the nature and scale of the change of use of the building, which is not stated but is heavily implied, where flooring is to be put in as part of the development.
“Why floor and roof the buildings anyway, and the erection of a middle floor, as is being proposed, if it is intended to simply conserve loose stonework and features?” Erin Gibbons asks.
She does not believe that a flat zinc roof is appropriate on a medieval tower house given the high visual amenity value of the island and lake of Ballynahinch, which is overlooked by a busy roadway and located on the edge of the Twelve Bens.
“If this work is to be given permission, surely it should be first considered withreference to a tourism impact statement, as tourism footfall is likely to have a major impact on this little island, the entirety of which is an archaeological site.
“No such study accompanies this application and the application is seriously deficient as a consequence. Alternatively, no roofing or flooring should be installed and the island should be excluded from tourist access and left to nature, once re-pointing of internal walls and features is complete,” Ms Gibbons suggests.
A decision on the planning application is due early next month.