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Castlecomer Discovery Park, Kilkenny

Set in the former grounds and stable yard of the Wandesforde Estate, Castlecomer Discovery Park (CDP) began as a community project with restoration of the park commencing in 1995. Since then, it has evolved to develop a range of cultural, educational and recreational amenities. It is an example of a successful local public-private partnership and is committed to becoming self-sustaining by 2015.

The park’s attractions which have been gradually developed over time include an interactive, multi-media coal mining museum within a new Visitor Centre and a café and exhibition area. Developments to improve the park’s outdoor amenities over time have also included the reinstatement of two fishing lakes; the development of four walking trails and pathways; the development of a number of design craft studio workshops in the estate yard; and most recently a new car park and Tree Top Adventure Walk.

The timeline below demonstrates the pivotal role played by Kilkenny LEADER Partnership and LEADER grant aid in the development of this tourist attraction which is an increasingly important employer in the local area, employing 51 people in 2012.

1994: The concept was devised through a community group anxious to enhance prospects in an ex-mining town where unemployment was at a high level. €250,000 was raised via local fundraising efforts to create a base from which to operate a tourist attraction depicting the local coal mining heritage following closure of local mines in 1969.

1995: Stakeholder engagement was sought and partnerships were initiated with LEADER, Fáilte Ireland, Pobal, Coillte, Kilkenny County Council and Kilkenny Enterprise Board.

1996: Riverside park developed (playground and picnic areas) together with a sculpture park. This was achieved through voluntary community inputs and the development of social capital.

1996: LEADER GRANT AID was sought and used to reclaim and restock two neglected and dried out fishing lakes and to develop 6 kilometres of woodland walks / pathways. This work was completed with volunteer input that helped to cultivate a “volunteerism ethos” in the town. This work contributed to the regeneration of Castlecomer town.

2007: Design craft studios and workshops were developed in the estate yard which led to the creation of 10 micro creative enterprises each employing 1-3 people.

2007: LEADER GRANT AID and Kilkenny County Council grant aid contributed to the development of a Visitor Centre and interactive Coal Mining multi-media museum. This led to the creation on 9 new jobs including a full time manager, 4 full-time guides, 3 part-time guides and 1 part-time financial administrator.

2007: The Jarrow Café was established with the creation of 8 jobs. The café has since gone on to achieve a Bridgestone award listing in 2010 and 2011.

2007: Educational programmes were devised for primary and secondary schools and the Discovery Park achieved accreditation as an official Discovery Primary Science centre. Thanks to this, an Education Officer was employed by the Discovery Park.

2009-2010: LEADER GRANT AID was used to contract Exodea consultancy to assess the tourism potential of the park. Exodea identified multiple tourism and leisure uses and a business plan to tap into these was created.

2011: LEADER GRANT AID received from Kilkenny LEADER Partnership to allow the park to purchase a secure storage container and marquee for outdoor events.

2012: LEADER GRANT AID was used to implement the recommendations of the consultancy report and 2012 saw the launch of the Tree Top Adventure Walk, Leap of Faith and Climbing Wall to generate new revenue streams for the park and the introduction of car parking fees and a parking system to support the upkeep and sustainability of park. The new facilities created a further 10 part-time positions for instructors.

A marketing grant from LEADER was also obtained in order to complete a re-branding process that would reflect the evolving identity of the park. As part of this, promotional educational and recreational DVDs were produced and posted to 1,600 primary and secondary schools to market the park’s educational programme. Its website was also updated

A Huge Success:

By 2012, the figures clearly demonstrated the growing appeal of Castlecomer Discovery Park:

  • 65 per cent of visitors visit the park purely ‘through word of mouth’ promotion illustrating the growing appeal to target markets: schools and families.
  • Number of paying visitors over 16 week period: 12,555. Total estimated visitors each year 80,000.
  • Nominated as one of the top 3 Visitor Attractions in Leinster by Primary Times – August 2012.

Locals say:

“It’s put Castlecomer on the map and brought new life to the town!”

“It’s a source of local employment and fantastic amenity”

“The preservation of coal mining heritage is a vital part of the identity of the community”.

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