Northern Ireland

Enniskillen Castle: Work begins on County Fermanagh visitor centre

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Media captionEnniskillen Castle is more than 600 years old and work is under way to transform a derelict 1960s building on the site into a new visitor centre

Work has begun to transform a derelict building at Enniskillen Castle in County Fermanagh into a state-of-the-art visitor centre.

The castle is more than 600 years old, built by the Maguire chieftains to guard the crossing point between upper and lower Lough Erne.

It has been the scene of siege and rebellion, but many local people associate it not with the sound of cannon and musket fire, but rather the dentist's drill.

A health centre built in the 1960s at the entrance to the castle, is where many people in the town went to have their teeth extracted.

'Challenge'

The castle is now home to Fermanagh County Museum and the Inniskillings Regimental Museum.

Funding of £3m has been secured to demolish the health centre and replace it with a new building to tell the story of the county's history and heritage.

Image caption The work is expected to be completed by spring 2016

Set against the historic castle keep and iconic 17th century water gate, the manager of Fermanagh County Museum, Sarah McHugh, said the health centre is an eyesore.

She said: "Enniskillen Castle is one of the most important architectural and archaeological monuments in Northern Ireland and the fact that we have a derelict building at its entrance has always been a challenge.

"This project presents a wonderful opportunity to actually demolish what is an eyesore and create a state-of-the-art visitor centre and an obvious entrance, so that people know for a start how to get into the site and have a proper welcome from tourism, from genealogy and from heritage information services."

Older historic buildings will also be restored to create new gallery space to display more of the museum's collection.

Image caption The project will see a new entrance developed at the site
Image caption Older historic buildings will also be restored to create new gallery space to display more of the museum's collection
Image caption During construction work the castle keep will remain open

'Key artists'

Ms McHugh said the museum's art collection in particular will have a permanent home for the first time.

"Some of it's been seen more outside of Fermanagh than in recent years," she said.

"William Scott is one of the key artists in the collection, and if you look out of the window in the new display you will be able see where William Scott grew up."

While the 1970s floral wallpaper in the health centre will go, Ms McHugh said: "Those stories of people coming here to have their teeth taken and pictures and photographs of the more recent history are important for us to record."

Image caption Funding of £3m has been secured to demolish the health centre and replace it with a centre dedicated to promoting the history of the area

During construction work the castle keep, which contains displays of the Maguire chieftains and the collections of the Inniskillings Regimental Museum, will stay open.

The project, which has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB), Association of Friends of Fermanagh County Museum, and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), is due for completion in the spring of 2016.

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