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2006-02-28 'Concrete monster' could attract tourists

With the recent closure of the Saehan plant at Hazelwood, and the loss of ninety-one jobs, I am certain I speak for everyone when I say that I hope that those who have found themselves suddenly out of work will soon find employment again.

 

When the Italian nylon yarn manufacturing company Snia set up business in Sligo in 1969 it was great news for the job-scene in Sligo, but seriously bad news for one of the countys premier beauty spots. In hindsight, surely such a monstrosity should never have been allowed in this historic and picturesque location.

 

As tourists and locals alike make their way to the Holywell, Dooney or Inishfree via Cleveragh they must look across Lough Gill in horror at times, as this concrete monster in the foreground peers above the deciduous boughs of Hazelwood.

Hazelwood House was built in the 1720s by the Wynne Family. It was designed by the celebrated architect Richard Cassels who was also responsible for Leinster House, Powerscourt, Westport House and St Johns Cathedral. Hazelwood House is built with cut and polished limestone in an Italian style, four storeys high, with two lateral curved wings, and a grand staircase to the front door.

In the past I have resisted writing about Hazelwood as it lies on my fathers doorstep, and has been (alongside Rosses Point) perhaps the most popular playground for the people of Sligo for years  it hardly needs the publicity. But with the closure of Saehan, maybe it is time for us to reclaim Hazelwood and restore it to its former glory. This is an area which was never meant to be an industrial zone. Tom Phelan (in Nice n Easy Walking) describes Hazelwoods Nature Trail as just about as attractive as any walk I know  a cathedral of a walking experience.

The website for Lough Key Forest Park in Boyle states that Lough Key combines walks, wildlife, beautiful scenery and lakeside attractions (including an ice house, gazebo and bog garden). Boat trips are organised from Forest Park to the islands on Lough Key. Hazelwood has everything Lough Key offers  walks, wildlife, and beautiful lakeside scenery, as well as an 18th Century mansion (obviously in need of serious repair). Lough Gill has historic Church Island, Beezies Island, Inishfree, and the Wild Rose Waterbus. With a serious cash injection from the government, the Lottery or local businesses, could Hazelwood become Sligos answer to Lough Key Forest Park, Muckross in Killarney, or Westport House and Country Park?

As the seat of the Wynne Family for several centuries, Hazelwood is steeped in history. The Wynnes planted thousands of trees on the estate, many of which are not native to Ireland. As you follow the two-mile nature-trail loop around by Nut Point, you can see the remnants of the many pretty follies originally constructed as snug retreats for the Wynne ladies in their petticoats and frills  a shell house, moss house and rock house. Several man-made islets lie just offshore from Hazelwood on Lough Gill. An old wooden drawbridge once ferried folk across the Garavogue from the estate. Varied activities including yachting, rowing, polo, horse-racing and hunting were part of this area for centuries. The Wynnes were of Welsh extracion, and almost without exception the head of the family was called Owen, so I tend to get my Owens confused, and am unsure which one was the High Sheriff of Sligo and which was a member of the Irish Parliament. The famous Butlers of Ormonde, the Gore-Booths of Lissadell and the Percevals of Temple House all married into the Wynne Estate.

Hazelwood lies about half-way between the two ancient sites at Cairns Hill and Deer Park, and only a couple of miles from Sligo. Formerly known as Annagh (hence Annagh Bay), Hazelwood displays a rich forest floor fauna of ferns, wild garlic and bluebells at different times throughout the year, which undoubtedly soothed that fire in Yeats head. And James McKennas Wooden Sculpture trail has been a talking point for years now. With its picnic areas, lakeside views and large mute swan population Half-Moon Bay is about as picturesque as lakeside vistas come. Now that it is no longer an industrial zone, it is time Hazelwood became one of Sligos Flagship Tourist attractions. Hazelwood House, Forest&Country Park has a nice ring to it, dont you think?