Historic Preservation in Ireland, Part III: National Monuments

Where any church or ecclesiastical building or structure appears to the Commissioners to be ruinous, or if a church to be wholly disused as a place of public worship, and not suitable for restoration as a place of public worship, and yet to be deserving of being maintained as a national monument by reason of its architectural character or antiquity, the Commissioners shall by order vest such church, building, or structure in the secretary of the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, to be held by such secretary, his heirs and assigns, upon trust for the Commissions of Public Works, to be preserved as a national monument, and not to be used as a place of public worship.

Irish Church Act, Section 25.1 (1869)

Not only did the Irish Church Act of 1869 disestablish the Church of Ireland, but it also provided for the protection of the first national monuments in Ireland.  They were to be placed under the control of what is now the Office of Public Works, founded in 1831 and one of the oldest government agencies still in existence in Ireland.

The first group of monuments, those at the Rock of Cashel, were taken into state care in 1874.

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Rock of Cashel, 1970 – photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Rock of Cashel, a medieval site in County Tipperary, contains several 12th and 13th century religious structures, with roots dating back much further as the traditional seat of the kings of Munster. Continue reading

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Historic Preservation in Ireland, Part II: The European Union

Lough Key Forest Park - photo credit: wikimedia commons

Lough Key Forest Park (project with funding from the ERDF) – photo credit: wikimedia commons

Find Part I of this series here.

As a member of the European Union, Ireland’s cultural heritage and historic preservation policies are impacted by transnational policies and initiatives from the European Commission.  A wide range of heritage-related areas are impacted by EU membership, including agriculture, agritourism, natural heritage, fisheries, environmental policies, rural development, education, and languages.  This is in addition to the cultural heritage policies and programs put in place by the EU.

The Maastricht Treaty set out policies relating to the cultural heritage of EU member states, including:

  • Contributing to the flowering of the cultures of the Member States, while respecting their national and regional diversity and at the same time bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore
  • Encouraging cooperation between Member States, and supporting action in the following areas: improvement of knowledge and dissemination of the culture and history of European peoples; conservation and safeguarding of cultural heritage of European significance; non-commercial cultural exchanges; artistic and literary creation

The current European Agenda for Culture sets out to “address common challenges” among EU member states, including “promoting cultural diversity, protecting cultural heritage, easing obstacles to the mobility of cultural professionals, and supporting the contribution of cultural and creative industries to boosting growth and jobs across the EU.”

The current EU Work Plan for Culture sets out four main priorities: Accessible and inclusive culture; Cultural heritage; Cultural and creative sectors: creative economy and innovation; Promotion of cultural diversity, culture in EU external relations, and mobility.

There are several layers to the EU policies and programs on cultural heritage.  One strand promotes projects that encompass several Member States as well as other international organizations.  The Creative Europe Culture Sub-Program has provided €13.7 million in funding to projects with Irish partners and €2 million to Irish-led projects to date.  The projects range widely from the National Museum of Ireland and UCD partnered-project, CEMEC (Connecting Early Medieval European Collections) to the Follow the Vikings project in which Dublinia and Waterford Treasures at the Granary are partners, to many other projects promoting creativity, the arts, and cultural heritage.  The full list of Irish-participant projects is here.

Another strand invests in regional development, including through support of innovation and research, the digital agenda, support for small and medium-sized enterprises, and the low-carbon economy.  Along with projects in other areas of regional development, the EU helped fund projects at Lough Key, Cork’s Triskel Christchurch Arts Centre, the House of Waterford Crystal, and other investments in Irish towns and cities.  Find the list of Irish projects here.

The European Union has many other programs and policies which have the potential to impact cultural heritage preservation in Ireland, especially through cultural exchanges and transnational projects, and it is interesting to think about how cultural heritage is interwoven into the layers of EU policies which apply to Ireland.

Further Reading:

Valerie C. Fletcher, “The European Union and Heritage,” in The Heritage of Ireland, ed. Neil Buttimer, Colin Rynne, and Helen Guerin (Cork: Collins, 2000).

Historic Preservation in Ireland, Part I: UNESCO World Heritage Sites

This semester, I’ve been taking a class in (American) Historic Preservation at the University of Colorado Denver.  Learning about the ways in which historic preservation works in the United States has made me even more appreciative of our historic sites and public history efforts.  Public outreach is such an important part of the history field, and it is up to us as historians to communicate what makes the study of history important today.  Given the current political climate, knowledge of history, civics, and global connections over time seems ever more vital.  The built heritage that surrounds us is a large part of that – it brings character and identity to our communities, and helps to bring history to life for the public.

I’ll be taking a look at different ways in which historic preservation is practiced in Ireland, starting with the highest level a historic site can reach – the World Heritage Sites recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.  These are sites of cultural and natural heritage considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.

Ireland has two sites recognized as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

Sceilg Mhichíl

skellig_michael

Skellig Michael – photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, Sceilg Mhichíl (or Skellig Michael) is a monastic complex perched on a rocky island about seven miles off the coast of County Kerry.  The site is extremely remote and, as the World Heritage listing highlights, it “illustrates the very spartan existence of the first Irish Christians.” It is considered an exceptional and in many ways unique example of an early religious settlement, preserved because of its relative inaccessibility.

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Skellig Michael – photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The rock was home to a small group of ascetic monks who withdrew from civilization to found their monastery. Buildings constructed include the monastery itself, a hermitage, and, later, two lighthouses.  The monastic community appears to have moved to the mainland by the 13th century.

The Office of Public Works has held the monastic remains in state guardianship since 1880.

Sceilg Mhichíl is also renowned as one of the most important sites in Ireland for breeding seabirds.  It is designated as a Statutory Nature Reserve and Special Protection Area.

 

Brú na Bóinne

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Knowth – photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Designated in 1993, Brú na Bóinne – Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne is a complex of Neolithic mounds, tombs, standing stones, and other prehistoric structures.  Human settlement at the site dates to at least 6,000 years ago, with built heritage dating from about 5,000 years ago.

At Brú na Bóinne, three large passage tombs known as Knowth, Newgrange, and Dowth dominate the landscape alongside an additional 90 monuments.  The tombs contain the largest group of megalithic art in Western Europe.  The tombs fell into disuse around 2900 BC, but the area continued to be the site of activity including the building of large earthen embanked circles, pit circles, and pit and wooden post circles (henges).

UNESCO Site: Brú na Bóinne / Skellig Michael

World Heritage Ireland: Brú na Bóinne / Skellig Michael

Heritage Ireland: Brú na Bóinne / Skellig Michael

Discover Ireland: Brú na Bóinne / Skellig Michael

ICOMOS Ireland