New dawn for Forest Park as Minister opens €10m facility

Lough Key Forest Park, as it was formerly known, was opened in its modern (circa €10m) guise in an atmosphere of positive hope and expectation by the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mary Coughlan, on Monday last. Past disappointments were to be submerged and the message emanating from the opening was that this project would be the beginning of a new dawn, not just for Boyle but for the region.    The Minister unveiled the stone marking the occasion followed by the blessing ceremony performed by Canon Gerry Hanley of Boyle accompanied by The Rev. Derick Swan.    Mr. Charlie Hopkins, Mayor of Roscommon, spoke of being proud of the positive and proactive role of The County Council in this project just as they had been in King House. He echoed the sentiments of all present in expressing the belief that this was a new beginning to a more positive era and he referred to the input of Senator Frank Feighan in canvassing for the upgrading of The Park.   County Manager, Mr. John Tiernan, in a wide-ranging address, touched on the many components present in the project and of the many people who had contributed to its fruition. He commended all who had made a contribution to this success story.    While the Manager was loathe to single out people individually he made an exception with two people. He commended the great efforts of Bill Murphy of Coillte and reserved special mention for the General Manager of the enterprise, Neil Armstrong for his energy and enthusiasm.   The Minister meanwhile lauded the people involved ‘in this wonderful project’. She re-echoed her support for the Joint Enterprise approach of The County Council and Coillte and saw it as part of Regional Development and noted that she had opened enterprises totalling €18 million in Roscommon that day. She also referred to investment at Knock Airport and the accessibility of The Park from there and the adjacent N 4.    An intriguing feature of the complex is the Boda Berg House, an interactive video game. One of the three Directors of Boda Berg is local entrepreneur John Burke. John spoke of this being a necessary wet-weather facility which would occupy people for a considerable period of time.    Lough Key has many beautiful views and some of these can now be seen, to advantage, from another innovative feature, which is the ‘Tree Walk’. This is accessed as part of a tour through the traditional ‘tunnels’, a trip to the top of the Moylurg Tower and then the walk.    I spoke to a range of people associated with the project. Eamon Murphy and Christof Kodron of Lagan Construction, the main sub-contractor referred to it as a challenging but rewarding project for them. Scott Wilson, who supervised the project for the County Council and Coillte, emphasised the need to be ‘environmentally friendly in this sensitive area’.    Garret McCormack, Project Manager for Griffner Coillte, the main contractor, re-echoed these sentiments. Tony Hennessy of Coillte referred to this as the ‘biggest leisure development Coillte was involved in, it is new but rewarding ground for Coillte incorporating outdoor and indoor facilities.’   Ms. Rita McNulty who was the Manager of the project for Roscommon County Council with her opposite Bill Murphy of Coillte commended the work of the Council’s engineer John O’Rourke and when I asked her if there were any ‘issues’ along the way she replied, tongue-in-cheek, ‘of course not, it was all harmonious!’    Mr. Bernard Murray, Boyle area engineer, saw it as ‘the basis of a special package of development options for the area to which the appropriate developments would be added which would rise the tide of opportunity.’       Mr. Gerry Finn of the Border Midland and Western (BMW) Assembly referred to the funding under the National Development Plan and said that Lough Key was one of two major tourist initiative projects, the other being ‘The Cliffs of Moher.’ Good company!   Mr. Neil Armstrong, General Manager, said he felt ‘overwhelmed and excited that the day of opening had finally arrived. ‘It is a primary national attraction and I feel privileged to be involved in adding another chapter to the Lough Key story’.    The aim was to marry economic and environmental sustainability. He too emphasised that this was just Phase One and was optimistic that the Park could return to ‘the dizzy heights of the 1970s’.   Mr. Tony Dawson, Tourism Officer for Roscommon, referred to ‘a flagship project in which there was something for children, families and the general visitor.’    It is fair to say that the forestry workers in Lough Key are closer to this natural environment than anybody and they were well represented on Monday and could feel well satisfied with their contribution.   Mr. Seamus Duignan, forester in the Park since 1993, was happy with the culmination of this phase on his watch.    Mr. Michael Costello, while commending the new, interestingly suggested that people should not forget what has been there such as ‘The Bog Gardens (in full bloom now) and the walks and above all he called for people to ‘use their park’.    One of the men responsible for the development of the late 1960s and early ’70s Mr. John Duane spoke of the park as an, ‘oasis’ and spoke with feeling for the people involved in his time. Another former forester in the area Tony Mannion commended the indoor facilities.   Ms. Sabina Moffat and Ms. Ann Bushell, near- neighbours, were also happy with what they saw and of the view that the facility was badly needed.    Boatman Mr. Pete Walshe was obviously happy with the outcome and hoped that the much-debated hotel would come on-stream in some way to ‘encourage people to come and stay in the area.’    Representatives of Boyle town National Schools were also on hand to view and test the facilities. Convent National School Principal, John Francis McLoughlin said it was an opportunity for schools to use ‘a marvellous resource on their doorstep’ and he commended ‘the practical mental challenge of the Boda Berg House.’    Mr. Gerry Clifford, Principal of St. Josephs N.S. said the children were really looking forward to accessing and participating in the facilities.   Mr. Paul Wynne, President of Boyle Chamber of Commerce naturally was delighted to see this positive addition for the area and commended all associated with it especially the County Council, the County Manager and Coillte. He hoped that the town of Boyle would respond to the opportunities afforded by the development. Mr. Sean Simon commended the facilities which had been sorely lacking heretofore as he gazed at Castle Island.   Naturally the politicians were out in force and they too were loud in their praise of the development and its potential. Senator Frank Feighan, Chairman of Lough Key Forest Park Action Group commended the innovative co-operation of Roscommon County Council and Coillte in ensuring that this day was possible and said he was delighted to have been of assistance in that process.            John Ellis T.D. commended ‘a tremendous facility for the region’ and said that it had facilities for all the family. He too expected it would be a catalyst for further investment especially of the often referred to hotel.   Michael Finneran T.D. expressed similar views and said he had been only too happy in securing necessary funding through Minister O’Donoghue’s Department.    The Mayor of Boyle, Raymond Maughan, said: ‘It is great to see something as positive as this and I hope it is just the beginning and I congratulate all involved’.    Boyle Town Commissioner Frank Geelan said he was ‘very impressed’ and he hoped it ‘would be respected.’   County Councillor, Luke Ming Flanagan, confessed to a feeling of jealousy with the treatment Boyle was receiving from the munificence of Roscommon County Council.    Local boy, made good, in the acting world, Chris O’Dowd, star of The Clinic, The I.T. Crowd and currently BBC 2’s Roman’s Empire, had a more oblique view of proceedings as one might expect. He feared that, in her generosity, the Minister might overspend her hard-earned money. He reflected on ‘many happy days as a young fellow in Lough Key Forest Park.’    Back in a place where she had spent many happy days as a child in the early fifties was Rosemary Tindal, eldest grand-daughter of Sir Cecil Stafford King-Harmon the original Rockingham owners. ‘For a child coming from London, where we lived then, this was amazing, another world, a world of horses, walks, trees, gardens, tunnels, boats and adventure. Today is fantastic’.    Casting a cold eye over the scene was ninety- year-old Pat Flanagan who worked in the old Rockingham Estate, as did his ancestors. He harkened back to agitating for the Government to ‘take it over’ after the fire in The Big House in 1957.    ‘I’ve seen it all here’ he echoed and indeed he has seen more than anyone of the changing face of this beautiful place.    It must be said that all involved deserve great credit for the successful outcome to their intensive efforts. It is a great and futuristic facility and Monday was a great occasion for the North Roscommon region. The facility is open to the public this Saturday, May 19 th .