The Irish Times view on Heritage Week: bridging the funding gap

The Heritage Council has suffered a crushing decline in financial support since its peak of €20 million during the boom

 

National Heritage Week, which begins today, is a great opportunity for people of all backgrounds to enjoy and celebrate a broad range of natural, built and cultural heritage across the country.

This year’s programme offers very diverse attractions, sometimes from marginalised groups. There is an exhibition on Traveller life and cob horses in Lisnurlan, Co Longford, a weekend collecting emigrants’ stories at the Emigration Museum in Dublin, and day of Yoruba art and culture in Duleek, Co Meath. There are explorations of the nature and culture of the Shannon at Portumna, and of Grattan Beach in Salthill, Co Galway.

There is no part of the country without some imaginative and attractive event nearby, which would probably not have taken place without the energetic promotion of the programme by the Heritage Council. We have progressed a long way from the days in which heritage was often defined in narrowly nationalistic ways, and where, for example, our treasury of Georgian architecture was seen as an alien imposition.

But a distressingly wide gap remains between image and reality in this field. We like to claim, especially abroad, but also to ourselves, that we are a nation that cherishes its natural landscapes, its historic urban spaces, and its arts and culture. Yet we repeatedly fail to sustain them in good condition, or invest in their future.

The Heritage Council has suffered a crushing decline in financial support since its peak of €20 million during the boom.

Natural heritage has suffered in particular. The council is only just replacing its wildlife officer, after five years without one. Nature-related events are sadly under-represented in the Heritage Week programme. The National Biodiversity Data Centre, one of the council’s most significant initiatives, has been hobbled by a late cut this year, and faces an uncertain future.

The council’s forthcoming strategy promises a return to its proper role as an effective and autonomous advocate for all aspects of heritage. But it can only deliver this role if it is adequately funded.

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