JOBS RISK: The Trustees of Muckross House have implemented a number of cost saving options to ensure the survival of the organisation.

 

By Anne Lucey

The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is being asked to intervene in a decision to shut down the much loved Muckross Traditional Farms as the fall out from COVID-19 continues to hit tourism.

The farms are to close down indefinitely in September, and will operate on a very limited basis for the next two months, staff have been told.

Meetings are taking place to inform around 25 part-time and 12 full-time employees at the farm attraction that some redundancies are to be expected.

No seasonal staff are being taken on this year and there are cuts in pay across Muckross Farms and the restaurant and craft workshops at Muckross House, both of which are run by a Board of Trustees.

The news which emerged yesterday (Thursday), has come as a shock.

TD Danny Healy-Rae said not only were people going to lose their jobs, but the whole enterprise is the “bread and butter for Killarney” during the summer, autumn and Christmas programmes.

Substantial State money has been invested in the farms and they are a key attraction for Killarney, Mr Healy-Rae said.

“I am calling on Minister Josepha Madigan and the Department to intervene at once and defer the closure and re-look at this. This operation does not have to be profitable,” the TD said.

The 1930s style farm houses, school and organic farming practices using horses, featured strongly in the visit by Prince Charles and Camilla to Killarney in June 2018 during its 25th anniversary.

The royal couple lingered at the farm houses longer than expected and appeared to take greater interest in the traditional way of life of rural Ireland than in the grander Muckross House Museum where Charles’ ancestor Queen Victoria stayed in 1861.

Opened in May 1993, featuring replicas of the houses and crafts north of Killarney, the folk farm seasonal visitor numbers have increased to around 80,000 a year.

In a statement, the Trustees of Muckross House the charity which runs the traditional farms as well as the craft shops and restaurant at Muckross House said the board had deliberated for a long time.
The second half of the year would not be able to recover that lost since March.

‘The Trustees have implemented a number of cost saving options and sadly more are required in order to ensure the survival of the organisation. Regretfully the Trustees have placed a small number of employees at risk of redundancy’, a statement said.

“We are not immune to this devastating economic fall out,” the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Micheál O’Coileáin said.

It was not feasible to keep going in the current guise, he said, and there had to be serious restructuring. The Trustees were having to cut their cloth according to measure, he added.

Badly affected by the closure of the past months, the farm’s entertainment side was also affected by the downturn in corporate coach business and it may be two to three years before that business is recovered.
Around 70 staff between the restaurant and crafts in Muckross House and the traditional farms were employed. In addition 20 seasonal staff are usually taken on.

The concern was if matters were allowed to continue then all jobs would be threatened, Mr O’Coileáin said.
For July and August, because of social distancing and staff safety requirements, the farms will be free of charge (a family ticket usually cost €40) and will simply be a walk through area with the houses closed as well as the pet and playground areas.

The attraction is set to close indefinitely from September, the chairman confirmed.

It is not clear what will happen with the farm animals including the much loved Clydsdales horses and Irish Wolfhounds.

In a statement the Department of Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht said:
‘The Traditional Farms is a commercial venture run by the Trustees of Muckross House not this Department. Any queries in relation to this matter should be directed to the Trustees. The decision with regard to future operation of the Farms was a commercial decision of the Trustees and not one the Department was party to’.