Heritage Week and Genealogy
The idea for Heritage Week, which runs until Sunday the 26th, originally came from Europe. In 1985, the French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, proposed a series of European Heritage Days, in his words “an annual invitation to people to come and look behind the doors and windows of monuments, harnessing curiosity to discover history and heritage. Nothing stuffy or official.”
The idea was backed by the Council of Europe and the first Heritage Days took place in 1991, with Ireland one of the nine countries involved. Since 1999 the event has been a joint initiative of the Council and the European Commission, the number of countries involved has grown to 49 and in Ireland the Days have stretched to a Week.
At the outset, the focus was very much on architecture, as Lang’s reference to “monuments” implies, and a large number of Irish events still involve providing enhanced access to the built environment. But since the Heritage Council took over running the Week in 2005, the “heritage” label has ballooned magnificently, and now covers a wonderful array of delights, from Archaeology and Archives to Walled Towns, Wildlife and Woodlands.
And, of course, genealogy. A decade ago, family history and its acolytes were on the outer fringes of “heritage”. Now, the “What’s on” section of the Heritage Week website (heritageweek.ie) lists no fewer than 38 separate genealogy events around the country this week. They include exhibitions of research sources and completed family trees, guided graveyard tours, master-classes, lectures and the very lively-sounding East Kerry Roots Festival. At last Sliabh Luachra is getting the attention it deserves.
The most ambitious has to be the Tipperary Genealogy Marathon, with Cecile Mulcahy spending a day in each of seven different towns in Tipperary offering research advice to all comers. My own mini-marathon takes in only the local libraries of Fingal. It’s still going to be a long week.
['Irish Roots archive from 2009 at www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/magazine/column]