Writes Ciaran Dineen
Plans are underway to increase tourism and footfall at the popular Camden Fort Meagher, Crosshaven. New initiatives to attract more visitors includes the launch of a self-guided tour app and the creation of picnic areas within the attraction.
John Forde, who heads the Designated Activity Company (DAC) to oversee the running of the coastal fort on behalf of Cork County Council, outlined the proposals to local councillors at the latest meeting of the Carrigaline Municipal District (MD).
The overall aim is to recognise that Camden Fort is a tourist attraction that can match the enormous success and pull of Spike Island. The two Harbour features are incredibly well positioned to enjoy shared tourism and these plans could help to develop a healthy, symbiotic relationship between the two.
Mr. Forde indicated that two funding applications had been submitted, one under the Historic Structures Fund and another under the Community Monuments Fund, in an attempt to further enhance the experience at Fort Camden. He explained that the Historic Structures Fund grant, should they be successful, would be used to waterproof the roofs of three of the Casemated rooms on site. This would help bring the rooms to “museum standard” according to Mr. Forde, so that the quality of exhibitions going forward can be made better.
The Community Monuments Fund would be used to improve the website associated with the Fort, while also helping to secure a “game-changing” experience for the visitor experience, with the potential to introduce self-guided tours that can be downloaded via an app for all to use.
Camden Fort recently featured heavily in the RTÉ series, Ultimate Hell Week, which involved many well-known celebrities taking part in a series of challenges run by members of the Defence Forces.
Additional public lighting, way-finding signs, fencing and a viewing area are also planned, with the hope that this will encourage more people to visit throughout the Winter and at weekends. Toilet upgrades are also vital according to Mr Forde and need to be addressed, while additional seating and rails are also required along the Bright Tunnel in order to make the site more user friendly.
In terms of preparing for the season ahead, Camden Fort won’t reopen until May 28th as there are currently negotiations underway with a third-party who wants to rent the tourist attraction for a few weeks in May. The delay in public reopening is justified on the basis of the income and publicity that would be generated if these negotiations carry through.
Councillor Audrey Buckley (FF), welcomed the new plans outlined by Mr. Forde, but queried whether a full-time manager would be on site from May to ensure the smooth-running of operations. Councillor Jack White (FG) gave his own observation that he felt from a public relations and communications point of view, Camden Fort was not making the most of its potential and that more from a marketing perspective needed to be done. He also asked whether it was possible for the café to be operated as a normal every day café without the public needing to pay an admission fee, suggesting this could open up an entirely new market that remains untapped.
Councillor Seámus McGrath (FF) and Councillor Michael Paul Murtagh (FG), both wanted to raise concerns over the intensification of Camden Road should there be an increase in visitors, and while this was entirely welcome, traffic calming measures would also be required to cope with the new demand.
In response to these queries, Mr. Forde said that he hoped an Operations Manager would be appointed at some stage this year but it might not be before the reopening date, but agreed with Councillors that he felt it was also a really important addition to have for the attraction. He also suggested that the company were on the lookout to find someone that could take over the café to open and run themselves on site all year-round. They are also looking to approach a marketing firm to increase the reach of Camden Fort, indicating that there wasn’t really a marketing arm in the Council that they could lean on for this.
In relation to traffic congestion, Mr. Forde acknowledged the concerns and added that they were in favour of promoting active travel and improve parking facilities to help alleviate the problem.