Northern Ireland

Seamus Heaney HomePlace 'jewel in our crown'

Seamus Heaney HomePlace
Image caption Seamus Heaney HomePlace has attracted more than 73,000 paying visitors since it opened

The chair of Mid Ulster District Council has reinforced its commitment to a visitor centre dedicated to the late poet Seamus Heaney, despite it costing about £500,000 per year to run.

Cllr Sean McPeake described HomePlace as "a jewel in our crown".

The centre opened in the Nobel prize-winning poet's home village of Bellaghy, County Londonderry, in September 2016.

Seamus Heaney's family donated a number of his books and personal artefacts.

The centre employs 20 staff and has attracted more than 73,000 paying visitors in the two and a half years since it opened.

However, it is heavily subsidised by Mid Ulster District Council.

Image caption The centre opened in the Nobel prize-winning poet's home village of Bellaghy

In 2017/18, it generated an income of £208,155, but its running costs came to £743,246.

In 2018/19, it is expected to generate an income of £251,800, but will cost £768,778 to run, so the council has to find the balance of £516,978.

However, Cllr McPeake said the council realised it would have to make that level of investment.

Costs and benefits

"It's right on target, essentially what was agreed within the [council] budget," he said.

Mr McPeake said the promotion of the arts "comes with a price", but what matters was how the costs and benefits were measured.

Image caption A display of words from Seamus Heaney's poetry at the HomePlace centre

"Within those two years, our figures show that there's around £800,000 being brought into the area through bed-nights and through visitors.

"You just have to look at the regeneration of the local main street here to see that businesses have gained confidence in spending money.

"The figure was set and was all agreed and we're living within those means."

A report in Wednesday's Irish News suggested a council delegation was going to seek investment in the US in a bid to save HomePlace.

Mr McPeake is one of the five-strong council group travelling to Dallas for a three-day visit to meet a number of organisations in order to promote it.

Reach out

However, he said the trip was not being made in order to beg for cash for the centre.

"We're not in any difficulty in regard to the financing," he said.

"We were always going to reach out to the USA and the opportunity now is right, and this is something we had planned for some time," he said.

"There's no question of council not being committed to the centre - it's a jewel in our crown in terms of a Mid Ulster tourist attraction.

"We want to internationalise it and further popularise it."

Cllr McPeake also said the council had plans to expand the number of locations included in a trail of sites associated with Heaney's life in the area.

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