ON Monday 21st February 2022 Minister of State Pippa Hackett turned the sod and planted the first tree for the development of the Cloonamahon Native Woodland Park. The ceremony marked the first significant step in the creation of the native woodland incorporating HSE, Coillte and Western Forestry Co-op lands at Cloonamahon.
The native woodland project has been made possible by a 100% grant aid from the Forestry Division of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) under the Woodland Creation on Public Land Scheme.
The scheme will also incorporate walking tracks, tree trails, signage, picnic and playground areas, seating which will be accessible to all, providing an inclusive space for both locals and visitors to the Sligo area. The Coillte and Western Forestry Co-op lands will be grant aided by DAFM through the Native Woodland Conservation Scheme and Afforestation Grant Scheme. The project is a collaborative effort between the HSE, Coillte, Western Forestry Co-operative and Sligo County Council.
An Overview of Cloonamahon
The HSE Cloonamahon Complex is located approximately 10km from Sligo town and is easily accessible from the main Sligo to Dublin road (N4). The site was originally a monastery/retreat centre, church and farm owned by the Passionists Order until the early 2000s and operated as a service for people with disabilities from across the north and west of the country. The N4 upgrade has resulted in a new cycle way to Cloonamahon being developed which allows green travel to the Cloonamahon site and connection to the proposed Sligo Greenway. It is a circa 200 acre site owned by the HSE, bordering approximately 15 acres owned by Coillte and 23 acres owned by the Western Forestry Co-op. The nearest town to Cloonamahon is Collooney (approximately 2km). This site is being established and managed by Western Forestry Co-op.
The combined land area of almost 250 acres is comprised of:
- 27 acres of land being retained by the HSE
- Approximately 55 acres of old native woodland that will be enhanced through the DAFM native woodland scheme and NeighbourWood Scheme as a public amenity to include tracks and trails that will link to the new native woodland.
- 13 acres of lakes
- 105 acres of HSE owned land to be converted to native woodland under the Woodland Creation on Public Land Scheme. This will include 4.55 km of tracks and trails, picnic and fully accessible playground area
- 15 acres of Coillte owned woodland which Coillte are transitioning from a commercial Sitka spruce forest to a native Irish Woodland. This woodland will be integrated with the Cloonamahon Native Woodland and provide a further 1 km for tracks, trails and amenity areas
- 23 acres owned by the Western Forestry Co-op Society which will be established as a “Model Forest”. This will include native woodlands surrounding plots of broadleaves, conifers and mixtures with the aim of being a demonstration forest of the different types of forests and forest management. This is intended to be an educational facility for farmers and landowners and for the public at large. The plots will be serviced by a network of tracks and trails that will be interconnected with the tracks and trails on HSE and Coillte lands
- A 45,000 sq. ft. building which functions in part as a residential facility for people with intellectual disability. The residents are moving to smaller housing arrangements within the wider community in line with HSE policy -Transforming Lives and Time to Move on from Congregated Settings. Some of the residents from Cloonamahon have already moved to their new community group homes and it is anticipated that all residents will be living in the community by the end of 2023.
- 8,000 sq. ft. of the Cloonamahon building has already been converted to office/meeting facilities for HSE services.
- Two fully tracked and hoist adapted bungalow buildings (3000 sq. ft. each) will become available for alternative use in 2023. A number of options are being considered by HSE CHO1 Disability Services.
- A deconsecrated church building of approximately 4,000 sq. ft. capable of being converted for use as a venue for larger gatherings and events.
- An old farmhouse of 1,500 sq. ft. together with a range of outbuildings and farm sheds of 5,000 sq. ft. These have potential for renovation.
- A walled orchard/garden of 3 acres capable of being used for a range of outdoor activities.
- The complex is serviced by a sewage treatment plant.