The Office of Public Works is removing its two staff from one of Laois' tourist spots, Heywood Gardens, to the outrage of councillors.
The two long serving landscape staff are understood to be ”very annoyed” at being moved from the heritage site, to work at Emo Court or Kilkenny Castle, with the OPW stating that “services will be met as required in Heywood”.
Cllr John Joe Fennelly revealed the news at yesterday's council meeting, as “a major setback” for Ballinakill.
“The two staff there have given 21 years of service each. I'm asking today that we send a letter to the OPW to hold onto their staff. During summer, busloads of tourists visit. This winter alone there has been five storms and the following day the staff have the debris removed. If the OPW is allowed to go ahead with this, the gardens will be closed more than they are open,” he said.
He is one of many who walk daily in the grounds, which underwent major restoration in recent years, at the cost of the taxpayer.
“The OPW has done fantastic work, and Laois County Council assisted with the cost of putting in paths and toilets. There are 500 or 600 people walking there every weekend,” he said.
The completed toilets have never been opened to the public, due to a shortage of staff to maintain them.
Cathaoirleach of Laois County Council Catherine Fitzgerald backed his call to write to the OPW and ask that they keep staff in Heywood Gardens.
“It is very important that staff are retained, it is important for Laois as well, this is one of our tourist attractions,” she said.
“The OPW will just write back saying blah blah. They've made their decision. Write to the Department,” urged Cllr Willie Aird.
Minister of State for the OPW Brian Hayes visited Heywood in 2014 to examine the new carpark and toilets.
“These new amenities will greatly enhance the visitor’s experience by guiding them through the 18th century romantic landscape, replete with man-made lakes, woodland pathways and follies, before leading to the famous Edwin Lutyens designed gardens,” said the Minister.
Heywood Gardens, on the grounds of Heywood community School near Ballinakill, has 50 acres of a woodland, lakes and formal gardens including the sunken garden designed by Edwin Lutyens in 1912, believed to have been landscaped by Gertrude Jekyll .
In 1993 it was given to the state from the Salesian Fathers, owners since 1941.