Valuing our heritage


For any country to have elements of its cultural or natural heritage internationally recognised is a badge of honour, all the more so if the sites in question are inscribed on Unesco’s World Heritage List. So far, the Republic has just two such world heritage sites – the great megalithic passage tombs of Brú na Bóinne and Sceilig Mhichíl, the extraordinary elevated monastic site above the Atlantic Ocean. Northern Ireland has another, the famed Giant’s Causeway on the north Antrim coast.

A new “tentative list” of six candidates for world heritage status has now been submitted to Unesco by Minister for the Environment John Gormley. As well as individual entries for the Burren, the Céide Fields and Clonmacnoise, the list includes geographically dispersed groupings - western stone forts such as Dún Aonghusa and Cahercommaun, early monastic sites such as Glendalough and Monasterboice and ancient royal sites, most notably the Hill of Tara. “The Historic City of Dublin” (code for the capital’s Georgian core) is hardly a single place, given the extent of redevelopment over the past century or more.

There are, however, precedents for designating entire historic cities as World Heritage Sites. In Europe alone, these include such outstanding examples as Avignon, Bordeaux, Bruges, Córdoba, Dubrovnik, Kraków, Prague, Rome, Salzburg, Tallinn, Verona, Venice and Vienna. The quays of Paris, for obvious reasons, are also recognised as part of the collective heritage of humanity. Would the Liffey quays also qualify in this context? Pas du tout, as the French would say. But Dublin’s sister Georgian cities of Bath and Edinburgh are already World Heritage Sites, and it could be said that the superlative literary heritage of Dublin gives it an additional claim to fame.

It is all very well for Mr Gormley to hawk our heritage on the world stage, with the promise of a pay-off in terms of tourism revenue, but the real test is whether it is really valued at home. As Fine Gael’s heritage spokesman, James Bannon, pointed out, the Minister’s much-heralded legislation to strengthen the protection for national monuments has been languishing on the Dáil schedule for more than two years, with no date indicated for its publication.

Mr Bannon branded this inexplicable delay as a “huge stumbling block to the preservation of our heritage”.

Instead of playing to the gallery internationally, Mr Gormley must publish the Bill without further delay to demonstrate his bona fides.