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Businessman awaits green light for Hill of Tara venture

Story by Jimmy Geoghegan

Wednesday, 14th December, 2011 4:49pm

Businessman awaits green light for Hill of Tara venture

The Hill of Tara...visitor facilities only open during summer months.

Every Christmas, Michael Maguire has watched visitors arrive at the Hill of Tara, many of them Irish people home from America and Australia for the festive season, seeking some information on the historic background of the area.

The problem is that there's no-one available to take them on a tour of the ancient seat of the Kings of Ireland at this time of the year - and he regards this as a lost opportunity.

Now the Hill of Tara businessman - who runs a souvenir shop and a café at the world-renowed historic site - has come up an idea which he says will create employment and promote one of the country's foremost tourist locations. It is, he asserts, an innovative, unique partnership between private business and the government.

He has gained permission from the government to use the interpretative centre at the Hill of Tara as the location for what he calls "cultural presentations".

He's also planning to employ his own tourist guide for the off-season only, to educate people on the historical significance of the site. He also adds that his own staff membera are also very knowledgable of the area.

The cultural presentations are likely to include musicians and singers who provide the type of music that would evoke the history of the area.

After a series of meetings with government officials, Mr Maguire is expected to be given the green light to go ahead with the shows in the new year.

The interpretative centre is a renovated church and is currently used for only three months every summer when tourists are given a slide show of Tara's ancient history.

However, Michael Maguire has long felt that there should be tour guides available throughout the year to bring interested tourists around the ancient seat of the high kings. Helped by Fine Gael TD Damien English, the Hill of Tara entrepreneur approached the government with his idea and received what he terms "a very positive response".

Already employing eight full-time staff and 12 part-timers, Mr Maguire said the opportunity is there to generate further employment and he's looking at the option of taking on a tour guide with the cost exclusively borne by him. "There will be no cost to the government," he added.

As far as he is concerned, it's all about promoting the Hill of Tara as well as local business in the area.

"I'm actually trying to give better reason to visit Tara for the 12 months of the year instead of the three months a year that it's open," he said. "There's a lot of people coming to Tara but they do not have access to the church and the audio-visual presentation there, which is really, really good.

"People will come home from America, Australia or someplace like that and they'll all be up in Tara over Christmas and the first two weeks of the year and this interpretative centre is closed. It's a public building and it should be open," he believes.

While he accepts that funds are not available because of the economic cutbacks, the Tara businessman is prepared to encourage greater partnership between private enterprise and the governnment as a way around the problem.

"It's important to identify places like Tara. There are other historical places, like Lough Crew and Bective Abbey, all around us and they're not manned, there's no facilities, there's no guides to tell visitors the story of the area, the myths and legends associated with each area.

"If they receive guided tours, these people can return to where they live, and tell the stories of areas such as the Hill of Tara with pride which would be free advertising for Ireland."

Mr Maguire said that he, or some of his staff, could conduct the tours, armed with knowledge gleaned from the many books written about the historic site. "The fact that I employ people all-year round indicates that there is business up here all the year around," he added.

A decade ago, Maguire's café contained just four or five tables; now it can cater for 85 people and is open seven days a week. Michael Maguire feels that there is a lot more room for further development in the area.

"The obvious attraction is St Patrick's Day, which is just around the corner. Nothing ever happens on the Hill of Tara on that day and we have the church there which has an audio-visual presentation locked up," he goes on.

"I see the opportunity there, that the business is there and I hear the moans and groans of disappointed people when they find out the church is not open.

"We as Meath people have pride in the Hill of Tara, we has Irish people have pride in it and I want to promote that," he said.

Deputy Damien English said the government is firmly behind Mr Maguire in his efforts to provide a better service to visitors at the Hill of Tara.

"We agree with the greater use of the facilites on the Hill of Tara, to provide a better service for visitors and to have those facilities in use all the year round," he added.

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