National week of heritage leaving a lasting impression

Organisers say recession has led to a stronger sense of heritage


Children will gather at Clara bog in Offaly today to find out what it takes to be a wildlife ranger.

Meanwhile, over in Waterford people will run through Curraghmore Demesne in Portlaw, while a bat search will get under way in Galway’s Merlin Woods.

These are just three of more than 1,700 events taking place as part of National Heritage Week before it ends on Sunday.

The Heritage Council, which runs the event, estimates that more than 600,000 people will take part in this year’s events, most of which are free.

But is the week really making a difference to people’s perceptions of heritage? Is it attracting people who would normally have no interest in heritage or is it just a group of enthusiasts talking to themselves?

Isabel Smyth, head of communications with the Heritage Council, believes it is leaving a lasting impression.

“Definitely, yes. It’s such an enormous platform for heritage and is getting the involvement of people that don’t normally engage in heritage.

“We track heritage week very comprehensively with various pieces of market research and awareness of the week has really increased.”

Six years ago under 30 per cent of people were aware of National Heritage Week. By last year that had increased to 60 per cent. “Certainly our feedback from organisers has said that the numbers of people participating has grown phenomenally.”

She believes the recession is a factor in its growing popularity. “People have a better sense of community involvement and supporting communities and a stronger sense of heritage. Certainly all of our research highlights the fact that people are much more keen to protect heritage now than, say, 20 years ago.”

When people hear about heritage many think of Norman castles and history talks, but Ms Smyth says the week is about much more.

“It’s really about highlighting the details in the landscape that highlight Ireland as a unique place. It’s about those aspects in our landscape that make Ireland distinctly different from, say, France.”

This is why heritage week will include people dancing at the crossroads in Cork on Sunday.

And why donkey hoof-trimming and feeding demonstrations will get under way at the Country Life Museum in Castlebar on Saturday.

Since Monday teenagers have been gathering at Dublin’s Chester Beatty Library to learn how to make robots with electronic engineer Emre Uzun. Those workshops continue until Sunday.

Also on Sunday, the restored lightkeeper’s house at Loop Head in Clare will be open to the public.

But don’t knock the castles. Research by heritage insurer Ecclesiastical Ireland in advance of National Heritage Week found that castles topped the list of our favourite heritage sites, with one-third of people surveyed choosing them over attractions such as country estates, museums, round towers, monastic sites and churches.

Yet when it came to the State’s most popular heritage site, Newgrange came out on top for the fourth year in a row.

The Heritage Council took over the running of National Heritage Week in 2006 at a time when about 400 events were held. “And it’s been growing phenomenally ever since,” Ms Smyth says.