The Abbey in Wicklow Town has been in the ownership of Wicklow parish since the middle of the nineteenth century. The grounds of the old abbey attached to the parochial house have been in the care of the parish priest of the day since that time and for most of this time the grounds have remained closed to the public.
In recent years, however, following the successful holding of events like the Taste of Wicklow food fair, the Christmas Market, annual outdoor Mass and picnic and various other concerts and festivals, the grounds have been left open to the public on an everyday basis. Most of those who use the grounds are respectful and appreciative; however, there is a problem with anti-social behaviour, littering and people climbing on the walls of the ruins. Obviously, this is a worry in terms of maintenance and insurance. We have been lucky so far, but if someone were to make a claim for an injury received it would have serious implications for the parish insurance.
One simple solution would be to close the gates and let the grounds remain a private garden as before. However, I feel that to do this would deprive the majority of people who use the place in a respectful way. Another possible solution has now presented itself in the form of an offer from Wicklow County Council to enhance the grounds and develop them as a public park with proper walkways, seating, lighting, flowerbeds, a bandstand and the planting of new trees. This would be possible thanks to an offer of significant funding from Fáilte Ireland as part of an overall plan for the development of Wicklow Town as a tourist destination.
In order for this to happen, however, a transfer of ownership would be required, from the parish to the Council. As current parish priest, I would favour this option. However, I am aware that I am only a ‘temporary resident’ here and I don’t think it should be my decision alone. I want to do what is best for the parish and the town as a whole.
If this transfer of ownership were to take place there would have to be certain safeguards built in, such as a guarantee that the grounds would remain as a public amenity and not sold on to a developer. A management committee would have to be established to oversee the staging of all future events that are held. And obviously there would have to be a watertight guarantee that the history of the Abbey as a monastic site would be respected at all times.
I want to emphasise that no decision has been made yet; I am simply trying to get a sense of how people in the parish and the town feel about this. I know that some uninformed comments about this matter have been posted on social media. I would greatly appreciate if you have any helpful comments or suggestions to make that you could email them to the parish office at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fr Donal Roche