A delighted St Michael’s Hall Redevelopment Committee pictured with Minister Heather Humphreys TD following her announcement for the project of €6,129,442. Front (from left) Pauline Clarke, Laura Nulty, Cllr Carmel Brady, Minister Heather Humphreys, Minister for Social Protection and Rural & Community Development; Connie Whelan, Sara McCauley and Marie Revill; back, Sean Shields, Gemma Kettle, Lisa Pepper, Keith Smith, Orla McGahan, Mary Lennon, Cllr Aidan Fitzpatrick and Wilfred Mpunia. PHOTO: ALEX COLEMAN

A very ‘special’ surprise for Cootehill

A funding announcement for any community project is big news for those it benefits, but the surprise news that St Michael's Hall Restoration Fund is to receive more than €6.1 million boost, did hit differently.

There were excited screams of shock, hands to chests, hugs and even tears.

Politics can be a hard chaw most weeks, but delivering last Friday's surprise announcement in Cootehill was the kind of day Minister Heather Humphreys says she lives for.

From officially opening the new €22 million Peace Campus in Monaghan Town in the early part of the day, she received a warm welcome in Cootehill - a town with which she is well acquainted.

Away from the hubbub she tells the Celt that its “an honour and a privilege” for her to be in a position to support communities in the way her Department does with its Rural Regeneration and Development Fund (RRDF), which places particular emphasis on revitalising rural town centres.

Even still, she admits the Cootehill announcement was “a bit special”.

The Cootehill project was one of 30 nationwide awarded funding this week. St Michael's Hall is set to receive €6,129,442, with a top up from local authority funding, the overall investment will come in at over €6.8M.

It is one of two local projects to receive funding, the other being the Kingscourt Town Centre Regeneration plans, which stands to benefit from almost €10.9M from the fund.

“Today is a great day for Cootehill because they had a vision and this support, and the funding I've been able to announce, will help them realise that vision. This is about community, this is about town centre regeneration. St Michael's Hall has been an integral part of this town for as long as I can remember.”

The Minister refers back to a meeting with the hall restoration committee last Autumn. They set out an “ambitious plan” but Minister Humphreys urged them to go even further despite there being only a matter of months before the closing deadline for applications.

“All credit to them they worked extremely hard,” she said, once again crediting the effort of officials at Cavan County Council in supporting the initiative, especially head of planning Nicholas O'Kane and senior executive engineer John Donohoe.

“Getting the planning, getting that application. It's an extensive job, and it has to be, because this is huge investment,” says Minister Humphreys, who was only scheduled to be in Cootehill last Friday to launch the community appeal for funds.

Watching leas cathoirleach Carmel Brady and chair of the restoration committee, Connie Whelan, tear open the paper concealing the novelty-sized nine figure sum, and seeing the overwhelmingly positive reaction, Minister Humphreys says it was “emotional”.

“Cootehill is really my hometown and always has been. I come in here regularly, I was reared here... I went to schools in St Aidan's and then, of course, I spent 12 years here working in the Credit Union. So it's wonderful.”

The plan for St Michael's is to transform the historic hall into a multifunctional and accessible community space.

Built in 1905 as a parish hall, Ms Whelan had said in her opening address that the vision was to create a space “to meet the current and future needs” of the community for the next 120 years and beyond.

After Sarah Jane Sherlock, a second year student at Coláiste Oiriall, who completed her history project on St Michael's Hall spoke, committee member Kevin Smith walked everyone through the proposed design, drawn up in partnership with Ronan Fitzpatrick of Craft Studio Architects.

In addition to two main halls and eight community rooms of varying sizes, and an elevator ensuring accessibility throughout, the building will be fitted with an new entrance, reception area, kitchen, washrooms, and storage facilities.

“The building is a memory box for the community,” said Mr Smith, reflecting back on the public consultations that took place, five in total, and how it was “wonderful to see old photos and hear some of the stories shared of parish dances, variety shows, youth groups, badminton clubs, move nights and much, much more.”

Speaking before the funding announcement, and with work still to do on that front, Laura Nulty highlighted the progress being made, with €30,000 raised to date.

Going forward, the committee is reaching out to the business community in the town for support, with the names of personal/family donations of €1,000 to be permanently displayed on a patron's board; and corporate contributions of €5,000 and over to have their branding on display for three years.

A further corporate funding option including naming rights for any of the eight meeting rooms located in the new facility, as well as the ability for the public to make donations via Cootehill.ie or via their Gofundme account, which has a €680,000 goal.

“We believe this project will be a positive catalyst to transform the offering that Cootehill has for the community who live here, but also for those who work and visit this area - the development of a community space that will foster interaction among our community and enhance and deliver on cross-community growth and empowerment,” said Ms Nulty.