Taoiseach Enda Kenny has backed Strokestown Park House to be a tremendous success under the operation of the Irish Heritage Trust (IHT).
On Monday, Mr Kenny visited the northeast Roscommon venue to announce that the trust would, in a partnership move, take over the operation of the historic mansion, and the Irish National Famine Museum, over the next ten years.
For the past 36 years, it has been run by Westward Holdings after the group’s founder, Jim Callery, and its board approved its purchase in 1979.
Strokestown Park had been the seat of the Pakenham Mahon family since 1653. It contains thousands of letters and documents relating to the Famine, which formed the basis for the museum, opened in 1994.
It was mainly through the devotion of Mr Callery that the mansion was saved from destruction but, as Pat Kenny, the chairman of Westward Holdings, said on Monday, it “has been an expensive jewel to maintain.” Despite attracting up to 50,000 visitors a year, Mr Callery revealed earlier this week that the project has been losing on average €200,000 a year.
IHT will hope to stem that tide over the coming years, although it will continue to receive significant financial support given personally by some directors of the Westward board.
The Taoiseach backed the partnership to be a success. “I am delighted to be here today to celebrate the formal announcement of the partnership between the Irish Heritage Trust, the Callery family and Westward Holdings,” he said.
“This partnership signifies another positive and I believe historic step for Strokestown Park. I want to congratulate everybody involved.
“I have no doubt that, through their vision and foresight, this innovative agreement will be beneficial not only to Strokestown Park, but will also greatly benefit the locality by further enhancing the experience for visitors in the coming years. I have no doubt it will prove a fruitful and prosperous partnership well into the future.
“Over the next ten years, the trust will work with the local community of Strokestown to develop all aspects of the property to bring benefits to the place and the town.”
The Taoiseach said: “The combination of the gardens, house, the Famine Museum and archive makes Strokestown Park exceptional.
“This is a distinctive location and a project that encompasses cultural, architectural, political and social history for educational and tourism purposes to support a major heritage attraction and magnificent local amenity.”
IHT chairman James Osborne echoed those sentiments.
“I do believe that because of the uniqueness of this property and the connection with the town, it is quite possible to make this place hum, tick, whatever phrase you like,” he said.
Mr Callery said that the his family looked forward to this new direction and the benefits it would bring to the property, the town and the region.