Irish Roots: Why we love Heritage Week

It would be nice to think that the reason for the huge success of National Heritage Week in Ireland is our deeply-ingrained respect and love for everything our ancestors left us.

But we really have very little sentiment about what we’ve inherited. Since the start of the 20th century, we’ve shed a national language and a national religion, three currencies, membership of a kingdom, an empire and a commonwealth and demolished more great houses than you can shake a shillelagh at.

And since the start of the 21st century, we’ve reinvented ourselves over and over, as business moguls, four-hour commuters, consumerist party animals, rock stars, gay reality-show celebs, and penitent capitalists.

So what explains our enthusiasm for Heritage Week? Part of it must be the chance to get into so many buildings usually closed to us – all-consuming curiosity about the neighbours being a vital part of the Irish national psyche (and also a sadly unacknowledged motivator behind a lot of genealogy).


But the real reason is, I think, more banal. We just love nothing more than a party, and what better excuse for revelry than a past we still disagree about?

Of course we don't actually need any excuse at all. In the early 1980s, I came back from living in sunny, civilised Italy to grimy, recession-hit, phlegm-hawking Dublin.

And there was a permanent party going on. The pubs were full to bursting with red-faced drinkers laughing their heads off. It was a glimpse of how we might look to foreigners – on a good day.

Heritage Week is a European initiative, so I tried to find out what Italians think of it, to compare to Ireland. A Google search for settimana del patrimonio nazionale found precisely one hit. On an Italian guide to Dublin.

The Week runs until next Saturday, See for events. I'll be doing my own turn for the cause in Dublin City Library and Archive in Pearse Street on Wednesday at 5.30.