‘The essence of the visit here is that all of our tour guides are former miners themselves’

Roscommon People reporter Dan Dooner recently spoke to Arigna Mining Experience manager Valerie Stenson about the unique Roscommon tourist attraction which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary…

How did the Arigna Mining Experience came about… 

The Arigna Mining Experience was formed by a local community group to preserve the 400-year mining heritage here which ceased in 1990 when the mines closed. The closure caused devastation and led to huge unemployment and emigration from the area. The community group came together and with Government funding got the museum open here in 2003.

What makes this site so special for visitors? 

The uniqueness of the attraction here is that people get to look around the exhibition space and see the tools that were used in mining and also our great photographic exhibition. But the essence of the visit here is that all of our tour guides are former miners themselves. Therefore the visitors are brought into one of the disused mines… and can experience and feel the conditions the guys worked in in these mines.

So the attraction has helped maintain employment for former mine workers?

Absolutely! They retrained to become tour guides and sure what better knowledge than first-hand experience of having worked underground? That’s what the visitors really love; they feel they’re really getting it from the horse’s mouth as they say.

Has the Arigna Mining Experience bounced back post-Covid? 

Traditionally the coach operators like CIE and Royal Irish Tours come between the beginning of April and the end of October. On average there would be between 45 and 50 people on a bus but last year there were between 20 and 25. We’ve noticed this year that it has climbed to between 35 and 40 so the confidence is coming back in travelling and in travelling to Ireland, which is wonderful. But overall, tourism is still running at around minus 20 percent and also the lack of accommodation at the moment is causing huge issues.

Are you expecting a busy summer? 

I think so; I think the numbers of visitors will gradually climb. Covid really did hamper us in the sense that we were considered an indoor attraction even thought the mine is fully ventilated (it remains 10 degrees Celsius all year round). We were closed fully from March 2020 until August 2021 with just a couple of openings in between. For the next while it will be about rebuilding and trying to get visitor numbers up to exceed what we did in 2019.