Councillor Paddy McQuillan and other protestors at Laurence's Gate earlier today.
Although it no longer functions as a toll gate (we’ve plenty of those on the modern approaches to the town), St. Laurence’s Gate, which was built in the mid-13th century, remains a symbol of the strength and determination of the people of Drogheda.
A group of proud and concerned Drogheda people stood beside the Gate this lunchtime to voice their frustration at the lack of action since it was finally closed to traffic two years ago.
Councillor Paddy McQuillan, the man who had organised today’s gathering after he received short shrift from the Council when he raised the issue at a recent meeting, said that the Gate was closed with the express purpose of making it a tourist attraction for the town.
However, his fellow Councillor Kevin Callan said that calls to open the gate were “ill-informed” and that today’s public meeting was “pointless” becaue opening the gate to visitors could put the structure at risk.
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McQuillan stuck to his guns however. “Everyone knows there is structural damage to the (south) tower of the gate, that’s why it was closed” he said.
“Contact needs to be made with Failte Ireland and the Government to come up with the funding for the structural damage to be assessed and addressed. Look at Carlingford Castle has been given €400,000 to do it up, look at Balbriggan castle, a fantastic job has been done there, and Trim Castle also.
“This is a major structure, a major tourist destination, having it closed is like going to the coliseum and not being allowed inside it. This is our coliseum and we want it open to the public.
He went on to bemoan the lack of communication about whatever plans the council and OPW have for the gate. “We don’t even know the extent of the damage” he said. “We’re not being told anything and it’s been two years now.”
“It was open during the Fleadh Cheoil and it was sold out for the three days it was open, 240 people minimum went up the tower every day at €7 each, that’s a lot of revenue.”
“We don’t even know how much the repairs will cost, nobody is being told anything and that’s why I’m suggesting that we get representatives from the Close the Gate Committee and the Old Drogheda Society on board to attend meetings so they can keep everyone informed.
“But for the Council to come out and just say that ‘talks are ongoing’ simply isn’t good enough. The people of Drogheda want the gate open and the OPW and the Council need to understand that the people want it open.
He pointed to the fact that Millmount is open year round and the OPW has a caretaker’s agreement with the Old Drogheda Society which is working well for all concerned and employing around 30 people on CE schemes.
Ann McVeigh of the Close the Gate Committee told Drogheda Life that it took 12 months to close the gate with public pressure, “…and here we are, two years on and there’s still no visible progress being made, even things as simple as taking down the railings, removing all the signage to make it look a little better that would be a start. Then Louth County Council could continue to work with the OPW to get the structural repairs that need to be done.”
Anne McGinley of the Drogheda City Status Group said she thought the lack of action was a result of a failure of forward planning on behalf of the County Council.
“It (the Gate) was delivered to them closed, they had failed for 50 years beforehand to do that and since it was closed two years ago they have not even managed to put in a bit of landscaping around it.
“I believe it can become one of the major tourist attractions in Ireland and can also create a huge amount of “passive” tourism through photos and videos being shared on social media worldwide which could be hugely beneficial for Drogheda.
Liam Reilly of Drogheda on the Boyne Tourism said he’d like to see the gate open to visitors but perhaps only at certain times during the year such as during Heritage Week and occasional other times.
“I personally don’t think that overseas visitors know enough about it to want to go inside the gate” he added that during the Fleadh almost all of the people who went up were locals.
“There is definitely a demand to go up on it but I’m not that whether it’s from locals or overseas visitors, the only way to find out is to do it, even if it was only as a trial.
In a statement issued today however, Councillor Kevin Callan said that what he referred to as “ill-informed” calls to open it without being aware of the surveys carried out by the OPW would lead to the gate being put at further risk of damage inside.
He said it was pointless having public meetings about opening the gate when people have been working on this project for the last number of years and work is underway to have the gate open as a visitor attraction as soon as possible.
“… anybody who was involved with the campaign to close the gate to traffic is aware of the fact that surveys were carried out by engineers working on behalf of the Office of Public Works which found that the South tower structurally was not fit to take visitors on an ongoing basis.
“This survey found that the stone ceilings were in a state not fit for visitors and the damage was caused over many years from HGV traffic.”
“The assertion that nothing has happened is not accurate and this is going to be a substantial restoration project internally within the gate where large stones were found to have come loose from the ceilings and fallen to the ground.
“A further complication is that if works began we could see the gate covered in scaffolding for the next few years. All efforts are underway but this is going to take time and won’t be open next week or the week after.
“The priority must be firstly to protect the structure. When that’s done then we can move to open it permanently.