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29 May 2022

Ownership ambiguity delaying moves to refurbish Ardagh Clock Tower, meeting hears

Ardagh Clock Tower

Issues relating to the ownership of Ardagh's clock tower are holding up moves to bring about its restoration

Cllr Paul Ross has called on Longford County Council to formally take ownership of Ardagh Clock Tower “in order to allow the local committee to draw down grants to aid in the restoration of the tower and thus secure the long term future of this protected structure, which is a key feature of county Longford’s architectural heritage”.

“At the moment the local committee are betwixt and between insofar as they’ve tried to draw down substantial funding to restore the clock tower, which is urgently in need of major restoration,” Cllr Ross explained at a recent meeting of Ballymahon MD.

“When they go down the LEADER route, they’re hit with the fact that there’s no correct ownership of the title deeds of the clock tower.

“There’s also a community monuments fund, which was only launched in the last week and, once again, when they look into applying for that, they’re also being hit with the same issue as regards the title.

“This is a piece of ground with a very key piece of Longford’s architectural heritage that currently has no ownership whatsoever. It’s something that I feel the council have to take ownership of.

“We have a local committee who will draw down grants and raise money to keep the clock tower going and assist in the maintenance of the clock tower but it cannot be done without someone taking ownership of the site.

“My other fear is that perhaps a third party will come in as happened in a carpark in south County Dublin and just register the title deeds and claim it for themselves, which we have seen before and that’ll leave us all in court.

“So I’m looking for the good will of the council to try and resolve this situation, albeit somewhat complex. But if we do take it in charge, we have a very good local committee who are more than willing to run it and apply for all the grants and ensure that it’s kept in the condition it should be for the future.”

Cllr Colm Murray seconded the proposal stating that this is an issue that has come to the attention of most of the members thanks to the initiative of the Tidy Towns committee in Ardagh.

“The ownership of the clock, or lack thereof, is causing a major headache in terms of securing funding to protect the future of the clock in Ardagh. All reference to debates year and year with regards the running cost - to be honest, we didn’t have much debate here, we were happy to support the day to day running cost of the clock every time an application came in for electricity costs and that.

“But we have a limited amount of funding at our discretion here and certainly it wouldn’t put a hole in the level of money required to repair the railings which are in a bad state at the moment.

“So if the council could see to facilitating a process whereby the ownership was formalised in the local authority’s name or the local committee’s name and therefore allow the local committee to draw down significant funding - and the county council to help them in any way they can. It would go a long, long way towards protecting the future of what is certainly a famous monument in county Longford.”

Cathaoirleach of Ballymahon Municipal District Cllr Mick Cahill agreed that the clock tower is “a very important structure” and “a focal point” of Ardagh village and highlighted that there are a number of other buildings in the county.

Cllr Pat O’Toole suggested helping the local committee to be autonomous and to set themselves up as limited company.

“It’s an easy enough thing to set up and will cost them very little but it will give them autonomy to apply for CLÁR and things like that,” he said.

“I think the problem they have in making applications at the moment is they have no legal standing. Whereas if they go down that route, you are legally entitled and you have a legal standing. I’ve seen it done before and it has worked extremely well.”

Head of Finance for Longford County Council, John McKeon, thanked the members for their input and agreed that the committee is hampered when it comes to getting funding.

“This has been referred to our Heritage Officer. I think it goes back to the time the estate itself was broken up and sold through the land commission decades ago - a lifetime ago - and it’s going back to that,” he said.

“It’s very hard to establish the current ownership and the title. We have to go through legal channels to do that. Time is of the essence as well so if we’re going up a blind alley and we’re not getting anything I think we should scope a deed rectification and try and establish our ownership for the group on it then.”

Cllr Ross thanked his colleagues for their support and thanked Mr McKeon for “a very positive response”.

“What kind of timeline could you put on that?” he asked.

“If you’re applying for a deed rectification, you have to prove that you’ve exhausted all other avenues,” Mr McKeon replied.

“In my own head, the timeline I’d give is the end of quarter one in 2022 and at that stage, if we’re getting nowhere, we would apply for that.”

Cllr Colm Murray requested that the item be kept on the agenda, “so that we’re kept fully in the loop until such time as we have a solution found here”.

Cathaoirleach Mick Cahill agreed and stressed the importance of “supporting all our community groups in their efforts”.

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