Work will start early in the New Year on the new Killeavy Castle Hotel at a cost of almost £5 million.
In the region of 90 new jobs will be created when the new development is completed and up and running, as well as more during the construction.
And, if all goes according to plan, that will be finished and ready in 2018.
Under the title of the Killeavy Hotel and Wellness Centre, the building – which dates back to 1810 – will be converted into a 42-bedroom hotel.
But development plans extend further than the actual building itself.
The castle – on the Ballintemple Road – is set in a 330-acre estate and was bought by the current owners for almost £1.2 million in March 2013.
Within the expansive grounds is a walled garden, described as once stunning but now derelict. It is also hoped to open it up again and redevelop in a move which should help draw even more visitors to the area.
A new cafe and shop to give visitors somewhere to relax and enjoy refreshments while enjoying the natural beauty of the area is included within the walled garden.
The owner of Killeavy Castle Estate, Jaramas Investments NI Ltd, announced today that it intends to proceed with the construction.
The hotel will be built on the site of what once were the Killeavy Castle coachhouse, mill and farm buildings, and will sympathetically incorporate many of their historic features.
While the hotel is being built, Killeavy Castle, an A Grade listed building, will be fully restored and become a function centre, adjacent to the new hotel.
The project is planned to be open to the public in late 2018.
Mick Boyle of Jaramas Investments NI said: “It has taken a bit longer than we would have liked to get our proposed development to this stage but we are excited to finally be getting this project underway. Our aim now is to make Killeavy Castle, Hotel, Spa and Wellness Centre one of Ireland’s must visit destinations.
“The Ring of Gullion countryside is an area of outstanding natural beauty and the setting of Killeavy Castle within it is no less than breathtaking. We are certain it will become the jewel of South Armagh and be a special destination for people from all over the world.”
Jaramas Investments NI is owned by Mick Boyle and his wife Robin. Mick emigrated to Australia as a child in the late 1960s with his parents, Michael and Pauline Boyle who both come from South Armagh.
Mick and Robin – who also established and own the successful Australian construction company Abergeldie Complex Infrastructure – are regular visitors to the area.
Mr Boyle said: “We have a lot of family and friends living around Newry, we love the area and its people. We are sure that tourists from all over the world will too.
“With our connection to the area and its people we want Killeavy Castle, Hotel, Spa and Wellness Centre to be good for the local economy. There will obviously be jobs created during the construction phase, but we think more importantly, when it is operational in two years time it will generate around 90 full time jobs for the local community.”
It has already created local jobs as the design team has been led by Newry-based architects O’Hagan and Associates.
“Being a local company Pat O’Hagan and his team have a deep appreciation of the heritage and natural beauty of the site and that is reflected in the design they have created. The Hotel, Spa and Wellness Centre cleverly incorporates parts of the historic farm buildings and it has been designed not to detract from the elegance of the nearby historic Killeavy Castle. The whole development will blend sympathetically into the magnificent woodlands of the estate,” added Mr Boyle.
The project is being supported by a grant from Invest NI and this announcement is being made as a result of that grant support being confirmed in writing last Friday afternoon.
Mr Boyle said: “Due to the historic building restorations and the size of the estate the grant support from Invest NI and the support of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council to upgrade Ballintemple Road and lease public access to parts of the estate have been critical to this project’s viability. Without that support , the project would not have gone ahead.
“The fact that it is going ahead demonstrates that the Northern Ireland government and the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council share our view of the potential for tourism development in South Armagh.”
Local people have been openly walking through the estate in recent years. Access will soon be restricted for safety reasons during the construction phase of the project.
Once the project is completed, as agreed with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, public access will be made available along the driveway and a public path will be provided along the southern boundary of the estate.
Public access will also be provided to the walled garden.
Jaramas Investments NI Ltd have asked the public to respect the ‘keep out’ signs and fences installed at the site once they are erected.
SDLP Newry and Armagh MLA Justin McNulty has welcomed news that construction work is to begin shortly.
He said: “This is a fantastic day for south Armagh as we get the news we have so long hoped for. Killeavey Castle is to be developed as a hotel with construction to begin in a few months’ time.
“This is an exciting project for this area and one which will be warmly welcomed on the foothills of Slieve Gullion.
“I want to pay tribute to all involved in the project, especially Mick Boyle the developer and his design team, led by local architect Pat O’Hagan. Mick and Pat have stuck with this project when others might have walked away. Dealing with a listed structure and breathing new life into it can be difficult work. However, when you see the final design you can’t help but be impressed.
“The developer and design team have been sensitive towards the architectural, historic and natural heritage of the site whilst creating a modern boutique hotel.
“I also want to acknowledge the work of Liam Hannaway and his team at Newry, Mourne and Down District Council for their support, as well as previous Environment Ministers Alex Attwood and Mark H Durkan for their personal interest and for visiting the site during its application stages.
“For those of us from this area, we’ve always thought of this wonderful castle as a hidden gem.
“The natural beauty of Slieve Gullion and the tranquil landscape make an ideal location for a boutique hotel and I look forward to its opening in 2018. We are all excited about the positive impact this development will have on the South Armagh.”
South Armagh MLA Megan Fearon has also welcomed news work is to begin, representing an investment of around £5 million and the creation of 90 new jobs.
“I am delighted that this long awaited project has finally gotten the green light,” she said.
“This is something that myself, Conor Murphy and our party colleagues in Newry, Mourne and Down Council have been working on for several years now so it is hugely satisfying to see the project get a concrete start date.
“This is tremendously exciting news. This area has so much to offer in terms of tourism and this project has the potential give that burgeoning industry the boost it needs to really bring not just the Slieve Gullion area but all of South Armagh into the spotlight.
“As well as being a very welcome boost to employment the project will also bring with it a raft of restoration work that will really bring this stunning area back to the public.
“While everyone is excited to see this project get under way I want to offer my particular thanks and congratulations to developer Mick Boyle who stuck with the project, even when things got tough, and worked closely with us to ensure it got the support it needed.”