Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Green light for hotel development at Killeavy Castle

Confirmation that planning permission is to be granted for the construction of a 40-bedroom hotel at Bell’s Castle in Killeavy has been warmly welcomed by politicians, business and community sectors in the area.

The SDLP’s Dominic Bradley revealed that his party colleague Environment Minister Mark H Durkan is to give the ambitious project the green light, although as yet no official confirmation has been posted on the Planning Service website.  The Examiner understands plans for the development will be officially recommended for approval when Planning Service officials meet with Newry and Mourne District Council’s planning committee early on 5th February.

The proposed development scheme on the 330-acre estate includes a hotel with spa and swimming pool, a detached marquee and walled garden, to be constructed alongside the castle.

Plans to restore the now dilapidated castle to its former glory are also being mooted.

Mr Bradley says he is in regular contact with the owner, who lives in Australia, and his Newry-based agent, Mr Pat O’Hagan.

“We have held numerous meetings with the range of stakeholders and government agencies involved including the Environment Minister Mark H Durkan who has been very supportive of the project,” he said.

“This has been a very rigorous process to get to this point given this is a historic building and all efforts have been made to ensure the building and character of the building is preserved as part of the development.

“Nestled in the heart of South Armagh, this hotel brings a huge economic and regeneration scheme to one of the most scenic and idyllic parts of this island.  As the economy comes out of recession, I hope that this hotel will be able to capture the imagination of tourists and that they will come to stay in what is a beautiful part of the world.”

His party colleague, Councillor Geraldine Donnelly says the community has been keen to see the castle restored: “With this proposal, not only will it be brought back to life, but it will help breathe new life in to our local economy,” she said.

“I want to place on record my thanks to all involved in bringing the proposal to this point, particularly SDLP Environment Minister Mark H Durkan MLA and his Planning staff.  This project was treated as a priority given the huge potential economic impact on south Armagh.”

Sinn Fein Councillor Mickey Larkin says he expects the application “will be championed within the Chamber” when it comes before the Council next month.

“There is great excitement in the locality relating to the planned development of this historic building on an incredible site nestled at the foot of Slieve Gullion. With the project will come many jobs for the area and an increased profile for south Armagh. “Whilst this dovetails perfectly with the new Council’s plans for tourism development within the Mournes and Ring of Gullion regions, it is unfortunate that the present new Council name does not reflect this. Hopefully common sense will prevail on that issue and Gullion will be included,” he added.

Having previously met with the owners and viewed plans for the project alongside Councillor Larkin and MP Conor Murphy, the area’s MLA, Megan Fearon, says it is evident from the proposals that the venture will increase the growing interest in tourism in this area and enhance the experience of visitors to south Armagh.

“This is another step on the path to making this a top destination for tourists,” she said.

The South Armagh Chamber of Commerce also added its voice to the plaudits.

Chamber President, Colm Murphy, said the project “endorses trust” in the community and sends a clear message that “Gullion is open for business”.

“A major project such as this hotel development really endorses trust in our community that for too long has been seen as isolated to investment. Tourism is a major revenue stream to our area and the work going on at Slieve Gullion, and by many other local organisations, backed by the local Councillors and Council goes to prove that tourism gives us the chance to develop a strong economic future for our area,” Mr Murphy said.

“It is also encouraging to hear of the plans outlined by the Ring of Gullion Landscape Partnership scheme. These really send out a positive note that south Armagh and the Gullion region is open for business. The South Armagh Chamber fully supports these tourism initiatives as we believe they pave the way for a better and more stable economic future.”

On the subject of wider tourism development, he added: “The Chamber has always supported the Council’s plans for tourism development within the Mournes and Ring of Gullion regions and particularly the branding ‘Mourne Mountains and Ring of Gullion’.

“The work to date on this branding is one of the major reasons why Gullion should be included in the name of the new Council. We believe it’s really important for residents and businesses going forward to have a positive affiliation with the new Council. We have worked tirelessly with help from the various agencies to enhance this brand at home and internationally. Surely private investment of this magnitude only endorses our cry.”

An Australian couple, with close family connections to the area, paid £1.19million for the  castle and its surrounding demense in March 2013 and later that year announced plans to build a hotel within the grounds of the vast estate.

The owners have previously said it is their intention to restore the 19th century listed building “to its former glory”.