Killeavy Castle: A room with a view

March 31, 2014

Ambitious plans for the restoration of a 19th century castle and its 330-acre estate nestled on the slopes of Slieve Gullion, could welcome paying guests to a modern and stylish hotel within two years, The Examiner has learned.

Proposals to redevelop Killeavy Castle and surrounding farm buildings into a 40-bed hotel and Wellness Centre could soon become a reality after the project received unanimous endorsement from Newry and Mourne District Council and the Slieve Gullion Buildings Preservation Trust.

Michael Boyle, an Australian businessman whose family emigrated from the area in the 1960s, bought the castle last year for a reported £1.9m.  Having previously indicated his eagerness to return the castle and estate “to its former glory”, the new owner says his vision is to keep the original character of the building in developing the hotel and wellness centre.

The plans include alterations and extension to the listed farm buildings on the castle estate to create the 40-bed hotel, restoration of the walled garden, a detached marquee at the rear of the castle along with a 100-space car park.

The project has received the full endorsement of Newry and Mourne District Council who have urged meetings to take place with the Planning Service and Invest NI to expedite the scheme.

SDLP Assembly Member Dominic Bradley has led a series of meetings with the developers and design team responsible for the refurbishment of the much-loved castle.  For the most recent of these meetings, Mr Bradley was joined by SDLP European Candidate Alex Attwood MLA and local councillor Geraldine Donnelly on a visit to the site with the company’s design team.

Speaking after his visit, Mr Attwood described the restoration as “a very exciting proposal” for the building and for the economy of south Armagh.

“It is exactly the type of proposal I had in mind when I initiated funding for heritage-led development within the Department of Environment,” the former Environment Minister said.

“The proposed development at the Castle has the potential to lead to substantial and much needed employment and other economic opportunities in the greater south Armagh and north Louth area, whilst at the same time helping to preserve an important Grade A listed building which is very much valued by the local community.”

Councillor Geraldine Donnelly said completion of the project would be “a real boost for the tourism product in the heart of south Armagh’ and commended the design team for bringing forward what she said was “an exciting design” which is sympathetic to the area and to the listed building.

“People in this area are excited by this project, not to mention the possibility of jobs both during the construction phase and then when the facility is open,” she said, adding that she will continue working with the promoters to ensure the project gets underway as soon as possible.

According to Sinn Fein MLA Megan Fearon, the refurbishment complements other tourism initiatives in the area such as the neighbouring Slieve Gullion Forest Park and wide range of restaurants and local amenities.

“The setting couldn’t be more picturesque and I have no doubt that once the development goes ahead, it will attract additional tourists to south Armagh” she said.

The newly formed Slieve Gullion Buildings Preservation Trust (SGBPT) has consistently campaigned for the sensitive restoration of Killeavy Castle after local man Deaglan Mulgrew spearheaded an initiative to highlight its deteriorating condition.

Speaking to The Examiner about the proposed refurbishment, Deaglan said the group is  “both delighted and excited for the new owner and we would like to wish them the best of luck with the project”.

“It has always been our intention to save the castle and ensure it did not fall further into a state of disrepair and we feel we have been successful in doing so. Without the support of the community and further afield, the castle would probably still have been in the terrible condition it was in,” Deaglan said.

“The castle remains a talking point in the nearby village and we cannot wait to see the castle being restored to its former glory nestled in the beautiful spot in which it stands.”