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Foundations laid by women’s work

The current tourist and recreation boom at Slieve Gullion has been welcomed by the south Armagh women’s initiative that began to develop the glorious site over two decades ago. A group of south Armagh women came together to develop the Slieve Gullion Courtyard over twenty years ago. The Slieve Gullion Courtyard Development Group was founded in 1991. The first Board of Directors was elected by the WORD initiative in south Armagh under the direction of Development Officer Philomena Agnew. They were Mary Murphy and Mary Martin from Forkhill, Kathleen Murphy from Cullyhanna, Pauline Toale from Drumintee, Ann McGeeney from Crossmaglen, and Mary McNulty from Lislea. Their goal was to restore and develop the near derelict 19th Century Courtyard at Slieve Gullion of which only one small area has been maintained as an exhibition area by Forestry. The group set spout to make the Courtyard a gateway centre for south Armagh celebrating the geology, ecology and social heritage of the area with visitor and local alike. This women’s group a first all-female group to develop an economic project in Northern Ireland invested thousands of voluntary hours in developing its vision for  the project and succeeded in securing over £1m funding from INTERREG international fund for Ireland the council. They were supported by very willing advisors from the IFI and DARD and Business in he community. Together with Lyons Architects the group planned the facility comprising exhibition area, conference area, classroom restaurant and kitchen and hostel accommodation for 32 guests. This innovative centre was opened with great pride in September 1994. Since then the centre has welcomed thousands of people – school groups and other visitors charmed by the experiences offered and the magic of the mountain. Although business was difficult in troubled times especially with projected tourism numbers never materialising the Courtyard through the tenacity of the workers and the Board managed to keep its doors opened confident of better times ahead. Three years ago the Courtyard received a substantial lease of life with the arrival of the Clanrye Group who made it their base and who utilised the office and workshop space and surrounding area for their educational facilities. This gave a whole new dynamic to the potential of the centre and opened the way for the most recent development of the superb Playarea and other facilities. Clanrye chairman Jerome Mullen said the were delighted to be partners with the Council and Forestry Service in what was a giant step in the promotion of the social cultural and economic life of the area. It was tremendous to see the huge numbers of visitors arriving every day and by being enhanced by all that was on offer in the superb setting at the foot of the mountain. “As Chairman of the Clanrye Group I can appreciate this undertaking in a very special way. For the past three years we have made the Courtyard the base of our operations and have very much adapted and developed the existing renovated buildings to the needs our trainees while at the same time enhancing the attraction of the Courtyard with the arrival of leading restaurateur Graeme Finnegan of Grounded and other changes.” Mr Mullen described the new play park as probably the finest in Northern Ireland adding that the modern developments were only possible because of the vision and enterprise of a group of south Armagh women over twenty years ago.


Newry Reporter

4th July 2012