€15m Hellfire tourism centre ruffles feathers over resident falcons
A small bird of prey has put the brakes on a controversial €15m tourism development at Dublin's Hellfire Club.
South Dublin County Council (SDCC) hopes to build a tourism centre on the historic site in the Dublin Mountains above Rathfarnham as well as a cafe and a car park, which it says could attract up to 300,000 visitors a year.
However, with merlins thought to be in the area, An Bord Pleanala said in a letter to the council last week it was not satisfied that a bird survey carried out was adequate.
It added that the potential impact on the small falcons needed to be established and asked for additional bird surveys be carried out.
Birdwatch Ireland said the merlin is amber-listed in conservation terms here due to its small breeding population.
The plan is also being opposed by local residents and groups, who say the area and infrastructure could not cope with the influx of visitors.
They also said the development would harm the nature habitats in the region.
The Save The Hellfire group, set up to oppose the development, said more than 20,000 people had signed a petition to "say no to this overscaled, inappropriately located development".
The matter went before An Bord Pleanala as part of the planning process, but it has now come back to SDCC seeking more information.
While the Hellfire Club is not directly in a designated area, it is close to three recognised European conservation sites.
An Bord Pleanala has also told SDCC it was not satisfied that the impact of the increased visitor numbers using the proposed visitor centre as a new starting point for the Dublin Mountains Way, which leads into the nearby designated sites, has been adequately assessed.
It has requested a nature impact statement from the council.
The Board said it was not satisfied that adequate surveys and monitoring had been carried out in relation to the potential impact of increased visitor numbers on ecology, biodiversity, flora and fauna.
The Hellfire Club was built as a hunting lodge in the 1700s by William Conolly, also known as Speaker Conolly because he was the Speaker at the Irish House of Commons.
It is rumoured to be haunted as it was built using stones from a passage grave on top of Montpelier Hill.
After Conolly's death, the building became a meeting place of the secretive Hellfire Club.
The site currently attracts around 100,000 visitors a year, who enjoy an uninterrupted view over Dublin city and Dublin Bay.