An Bord Pleanala
64 Marlborough Street
7th December 2020
Re: Observation to first party appeal against refusal of planning permission for proposed development at Saint Ann's Road, Monacnappa, Blarney, Cork
To whom it may concern,
The Irish Georgian Society previously objected to this planning application for a 3-storey primary care centre with 5 no. ground floor retail units and café at St. Ann's Road, Monacnappa, Blarney, Cork. In submitting this observation to An Bord Pleanala on the first party appeal, the Society wishes to reiterate its reservations about the development.
The site in question adjoins the Blarney Castle Estate Architectural Conservation Area and lies to the north of Blarney castle itself. Through its design, scale and location, the Irish Georgian Society is of the opinion that the proposed development would have a detrimental impact on the character and setting of Blarney town, an important planned industrial settlement, and have an adverse effect on views from the Blarney Castle estate as well as from the castle itself, a protected structure of national importance.
Blarney was laid out by James St. John Jeffries between 1765-76 as a model industrial town with a central square surrounded by worker’s cottages and a prominently placed Anglican parish church. It had the advantage of a ready supply of water to power a variety of mills including a flax and hemp spinning factory and later mills specialising in printing on linen and paper. In the mid-nineteenth century, many of these were taken over by the O’Mahony family, founders of what became Blarney Woollen Mills. Blarney is the most important example of an eighteenth-century planned industrial town in Cork and it is imperative that its special character is protected and nurtured.
In Buildings of Ireland, Cork: City and County (Yale, 2020) Frank Keohane describes Blarney castle as “perhaps Ireland’s most famous castle; a tower house
on a princely scale, thoroughly complex in its evolution and planning”. He notes that it was built in two distinct phases: the first in the 1480s by Cormac Laider McCarthy who built a slender, self-contained four-storey tower house in the northwest corner of a bawn, and the second in the early to mid-16th century, when a larger five-storey tower was built immediately to the east and south. He observes that major alterations were undertaken by Cormac Oge McCarthy from 1616 and that as “one of Blarney’s most distinctive features, the tall machicolated parapets on elegant pyramidal corbels, were probably erected at this time”. Sadly, the castle was severely damaged by fire in 1820 after which it was no longer occupied.
Development and local area plans
The Cork County Development Plan 2014, and the Blarney Macroom Municipal District Local Area Plan, 2017 clearly provide for the protection of both Blarney town and castle.
In considering Architectural Conservation Areas, the Cork County Development Plan 2014 aims to “ensure new development within or adjacent to an ACA respects the established character of the area and contributes positively in terms of design, scale, setting and material ﬁnishes to the ACA (HE 4-5:Architectural Conservation Areas). It also identifies Blarney Castle as a key tourist attraction which it states should be protected from inappropriate development. It notes that “the physical setting of tourist attractions is often a major component in their attractiveness” and that “the surrounding landscape or particular features of the built environment often contribute to the setting or mystique of an attraction” (8.3.1.).
The Blarney Macroom Municipal District Local Area Plan, 2017 states that “one of the principle tourist attractions in Ireland is Blarney Castle and that the industry relies on the quality and attractiveness of the built and natural heritage of the local area” (3.2.23). It states that it is important that “future initiatives within the vicinity of the Castle do not compromise the tourism potential of the town and actively seek to enhance this important sector of the local economy”. Section 3.2.25 of the Plan acknowledges the need to assess development in the vicinity of the Blarney Castle estate in the context of the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government’s Architectural Heritage Protection Guidelines which “acknowledge that new development can have a negative impact on a protected structure, even when the proposal is detached from the protected structure and outside the curtilage of the attendant grounds”.
The former Blarney Park Hotel site is identified in the LAP as a ‘Regeneration Area’ occupying a strategic location on the western edge of Blarney, and in close proximity to Blarney Castle, and as such it is recognised as a ‘sensitive site’ where “any future development will need to protect and enhance the existing character of the area and views of the Castle.”
The LAP goes on to require that “the location, siting and design of any future development on site will need careful consideration and have to be carried out to a high-quality architectural design. Such development should have regard to the existing streetscape around the adjoining square and could include an architecturally iconic building.” It is clear that a high-quality design approach is required in the context of the significant heritage asset of Blarney Castle.
Blarney has been a major centre for tourists for the last 200 years and in some ways could be regarded as being of international significance. Given its prominence, it serves as an important shop window for the region and so it is essential that any new developments are carefully planned and designed. The Irish Georgian Society is of the view that the current planning application would undermine the special interest of Blarney and so run contrary to the provisions of both the Cork County Development Plan 2014, and the Blarney Macroom Municipal District Local Area Plan, 2017.
Executive Director IGS