On July 23, a celebration was held at The West Cork Model Railway Village in Clonakilty to mark its 20 years in business. A huge amount of work has taken place recently to restore this amenity to its former glory, following years of erosion by the salty sea air. Sheila Mullins went along to view the new exhibits and find out more about how the Model Railway Village was conceived, and what its future holds.
When the Model Village was originally constructed, its buildings were made of wood and resin and, while they looked amazing for many years after, recently they had begun to crack and fade due to the salty air and successive severe winters. A renovation plan was launched last year, with each building recast in tough fiberglass and hand-painted in the workshop. Emmet Square was replanted; horses and carts were delayed while roads were resurfaced; leaky roofs were replaced; the café carriages got more than just a lick of paint; new figurines were modelled to enliven the street scenes and extra trains were added to the complex of tracks that meander around the towns of West Cork. Today the Model Railway Village is back to its former glory, in fact it is better than ever!
Since its official opening in July 1994 by then President Mary Robinson, the Model Railway Village has become part of Clonakilty’s identity; a symbol of the prosperity and growth that the entire town enjoyed through the 1990s and 2000s. However the idea was conceived at a very different time. Many in attendance remembered the town as having always been as smart and cheerful as it is today and it came as a shock to see the slideshow presented by former town architect Billy Houlihan, which depicted the current library as a roofless ruin and a field of weeds where the ‘Smartie Houses’ now stand.
This was what the town looked like in the late 80s and early 90s, looking worse-for-wear and with high unemployment and no indigenous industry. A group of like-minded individuals, including “Mr Tourism” Charlie Cullinane, came together to brainstorm about setting up an amenity that would not only be a tourist attraction for the town, but also provide training and employment with the help of FÁS. The Model Railway Village was born and today, with almost 800,000 visitors having passed through its doors and 200 employees trained and graduating to mainstream employment, it has to be deemed a massive success for its entirely voluntary committee.
However at the reception, Treasurer John Brosnan informed everyone that the future of the Model Railway Village was uncertain without a concerted effort by all local businesses and residents to support and promote the amenity to visitors. In the last number of years government grants, which the committee heavily relied on, have been slashed. Pobal, an organisation that manages various funding programmes on behalf of the Irish Government, has asked every funded project to submit a three-year business plan to be eligible going forward.
The business plan, which was outlined at the reception, has a strong basis following the extensive renovations that have recently taken place. The committee is devoted to making the Model Railway Village a leading cultural and historical attraction by continuing to enhance the facilities and attractions at the site and by collaborating with other attractions in Cork County to create feeder routes. By making it a ‘must-see’ they plan to grow visitor numbers by seven to 10 per cent year on year and therefore become less dependent on outside funding. John Brosnan emphasised that the new Wild Atlantic Way was a fantastic opportunity for the Model Village to “reboot and relaunch the project” – an opportunity the committee would seize.
He finished up by reminding people present about the value of the Model Village to the economy of Clonakilty, asking everyone to, “Come on board and play your part.”