Behind the News: Conor Newman, volunteering fan

Volunteers are more important than ever to our communities and to our awareness of our past, says the chairman of the Heritage Council

Conor Newman: “Community organisations need a lifeline of support to achieve the transformation that is within their power”

Conor Newman: “Community organisations need a lifeline of support to achieve the transformation that is within their power”

 

Volunteers are keeping our rural towns and villages alive, according to Conor Newman, chairman of the Heritage Council.

“In the slow or nonexistent return to growth in rural towns, voluntary groups contribute more to the wellbeing of people than employment or security,” Newman said.

“This sounds like an extraordinary claim until you consider places such as Kilkenny city or Westport, whose economic viability is in so many ways deeply intertwined with the work of the voluntary sector in laying the groundwork for small businesses to thrive.”

Newman was speaking at the launch of National Heritage Week, when he says that the contribution of volunteers will be at its peak. “This year there are 580 voluntary community groups organizing events during National Heritage Week, and 460 of these are based in rural Ireland.”

Newman believes that heritage initiatives encourage other economic and tourism activity. “We have witnessed the benefits of heritage-led regeneration in places like Mulrany, in Co Mayo. We can say that there has been €3 million investment in that area” – which is on the Great Western Greenway cycling route from Westport to Achill Island – “following local-authority and Heritage Council funding of smaller projects.”

Newman makes a plea for more funding of heritage-led initiatives. “Community organisations are critical to the sustainable future of rural Ireland, but they need a lifeline of support to achieve the transformation that is within their power.”

National Heritage Week was launched at Guinness Storehouse – appropriately, given that the event’s theme this year is our industrial heritage.

“In most counties there are still signs of lost industry: a derelict mill, rusting machinery, a chimney, a clogged water race. All mark the sites of a once-thriving workplace and community which are well worth a look at,” Michael Starrett, the Heritage Council’s chief executive, says.

The historian Turtle Bunbury points out that when it was completed, in 1910, the Storehouse building (above) was the first steel-framed multistorey building in Britain or Ireland. To mark its history, an outdoor exhibition celebrating Guinness Storehouse’s industrial heritage will be on show at the Grafton Street side of St Stephen’s Green from August 25th to 30th.

National Heritage Week starts on August 22nd; heritageweek.ie

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