With it unique history and scenic location, ambitious plans are afoot to create a centre at Rockhill House in Letterkenny that will work to join all the entire global Irish diaspora, past, present and future.
With plans for a National Irish Diaspora centre in the offing for some time now, a local group are working hard to promote RockHill House, the former country manor that also served as Irish Army barracks, as the ideal location.
Among those involved in the project is Adrian Gallagher.
Originally from Carrigart, he has lived in the Letterkenny area for many years.
Married to Mary, they have three children Niamh, Lousia and Cormack, Adrian runs his own clothing business.
With an ethos of helping make a positive impact rather than ‘say nothing’, he has been active in several community groups and has played a successful role in the high profile Gallagher Reunion events in recent years.
“I’ve always been involved with different things locally,” he explained.
“I’ve always been keen to get involved rather than complain that nothing could be done, so that’s how I became involved.”
He also has a keen interest in local history and is a member of the Donegal Historical Society.
He says that as a county and country we have a ”heritage worth celebrating” and he is now working with others to help locate a national Diaspora Centre right in the heart of Donegal.
He says Rockhill House could be the ideal location, given the fact that it’s an amenity that is currently unused. Donegal’s unique understanding of the impact of emigration and its diaspora around the world are also key factors.
The group’s new plan aims to reunite Rockhill House with the surrounding Coillte lands to provide a larger public amenity.
Adrian emphasised that plans are advancing strongly and they are now wanting the Department of Defence to release the property to the people of Ireland. They also want Donegal County Council to get involved in the project.
Not only will Rockhill House be preserved, “it will be greatly enhanced,” Adrian stated.
“We reckon the potential is there for the creation of a National Diaspora Centre in Letterkenny. Donegal has all the reasons why it should be located here. In Rockhill he have the ideal location and we are going to try and get it moving. We really hope the County Council, as the relevant body in the county, will come on board as a key player in the whole thing,” he stated.
His first experience of Rockhill House came through a meeting with well-known historian and retired Defence Force member, Col. Declan O’Carroll.
“In 2009 Col. Declan O’Carroll had been saying that Rockhill had been laying dormant, for nine months at that stage, after the defence forces left. I was a member of the Historical Society so I said I’d go along and have a look at the place.
“I had been up at it once before for a brief visit, so I went and looked at it and I was blown away by the place - the building itself and the whole ambience of the place.
“I started thinking - ‘This place is very large, how could you put in something here that could make it feasible?’ It has to be self-sustaining with what ever project goes in there. There has to a be a financial logic to it.
“Some of us went and met the Department of the Defence and we were told at that stage, December 2009, that the building was to be auctioned off in a month or two. That put pressure on us because we said if this is going to happen we need to get some kind of documentation together to show what could be done with the place.
“We knew that without some kind of plans down on paper, nothing was likely to happen. So that’s what we did.”
The initial plans focused on an outline feasibility study on a “Donegal People’s Centre” but the plan has now been superseded by the National Diaspora Centre.
Adrian says they feel that given the fact that the Department of Defence acquired the premises for “ten shillings in 1942”, they feel it should be handed over to the people of Ireland for a nominal sum. “We think the same should apply when it is being handed back to the people, as at the end of the day, it’s the people of Ireland that own it.”
The group have been researching and exploring the potential of the historic Rockhill site and Adrian says if the centre can be created it would provide a unique resource that would have national and international importance.
Adrian explained: “It will be a centre of international standing. One of the most celebrated local firms of architects, MacGabhann Architects, has produced very exciting outline plans.
“A top UK company is devising a unique interpretive plan and with their input, combined with other professional skills, both local and international, we have no doubt that Letterkenny can have a centre that can drive growth, not only locally, but throughout the region.”
Their plans have got the backing of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Deputy Joe McHugh, who is Chairperson of the Committee, received a letter of acknowledgement from An Tanaiste.
Adrian added: “Support such as that of the Joint Committee is crucial to our plans. It emphasises that our plans have a remit for the whole island of Ireland, something which is very important when we are dealing with the diaspora. We in Ireland do not want to send out a signal of disunity. The national diaspora centre we envisage located in this venue can fulfil the needs and expectations of all those with ancestral roots in Ireland, no matter where those roots may have begun.”
The Clanree Hotel and Loch Áltán Hotel have helped sponsor the work of the consultants.
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