National Trust slams door on Giant's Causeway shop after 70 years
A family who have run a souvenir business at the Giant's Causeway for more than 70 years face eviction three weeks before Christmas.
Tommy McConaghy (70) is challenging the planned eviction by the National Trust, which is proposing to turn the shop into new toilet facilities.
The Trust, which runs a visitor centre at Northern Ireland's only Unesco World Heritage site, has issued a notice indicating that the lease on the shop will finish at the end of November.
Mr McConaghy said his grandfather had sold souvenirs at the Giant's Causeway since 1912.
"When my mother was 14 years of age she used to give visitors a glass with water from the wishing well and she used to ask them to make three wishes and tell them one of them would come true," he said.
"When my father came out of the Navy in 1946 he built our first shop down at the stones. It was down there until 1969 and then the National Trust moved us to the top, where the car park is now.
"After the visitors' centre burned, the council moved us into new premises there and six years ago when the Trust took over the whole thing they put us in beside the Causeway Hotel."
Mr McConaghy said his father made blackthorn walking sticks - including one presented to Prince Charles on a visit in 1998 - and musical shillelaghs.
A blackthorn stick from the McConaghy family was also presented to Prince Philip by North Antrim MP Ian Paisley on a Royal visit last year.
"The National Trust served us a notice on the Bank Holiday weekend in May and told us we had six months to get out as the lease was up," Mr McConaghy said.
He said that last Friday a member of staff from the Trust brought a piece of paper that said the charity wanted to work with the family, but the following day they received a letter, sent by recorded delivery, to say the lease was up at the end of November.
"We had one meeting with them. They kept saying they had good intent, but they wouldn't tell us what this good intent was," Mr McConaghy said.
The decision means he, his wife and daughter will no longer be able to make their living at the Giant's Causeway.
The family are now challenging the decision via the Lands Tribunal, with the help of chartered surveyor Richard McLaughlin, director of Northern Real Estate in Coleraine.
"There is plenty of ground where they could put toilets up," Mr McConaghy said.
"Our point of view is surely they could build an establishment at the back of the property.
"There is enough land surrounding the property, instead of wiping out a business tenant. They themselves leased the land from Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council."
A spokesman for the National Trust said: "The current lease on the shop expires in November 2017 and the Trust has already advised the leaseholder that due to our current and future visitor needs we are not in a position to renew the lease.
"The National Trust has submitted a planning application for change of use of a small office and shop adjacent to the Causeway Hotel, in order to provide baby changing facilities and additional male, female and accessible WCs.
"This is in response to growing visitor numbers and requests for facilities to be available outside visitor centre opening hours.
"The Giant's Causeway welcomes visitors from local and international markets and works hard to ensure that the visitor experience is world class.
"Since 2011 visitor numbers have increased at the World Heritage Site from 533,000 visitors to 944,000 visitors in 2016.
"The National Trust acknowledges the contribution that the McConaghy family have made at the site and confirms the decision to submit the planning application was not taken lightly, but with good intent to address increasing visitor pressures."