Address by Mr. Conor Newman, Chairman of The Heritage Council at the launch of Heritage Week 2008 in Kilkenny Castle park, Sunday the 24th of August, 12 noon.
Thank you, and welcome everybody to the launch of Heritage Week. Welcome in particular Minister Michael Kitt. We are delighted that you are here and hope very much that you will enjoy your day in Kilkenny.
Heritage Week is a week-long celebration of our natural and cultural identity; a Week when we showcase everything, from the deep past to traditions that are much more recent, with over a thousand events happening throughout the country. The thousand-plus events, nature trails, exhibitions, and so on represent just the tip of the iceberg, because behind the scenes tens of thousands of volunteers, enthusiasts and professionals are giving of their time this week to inspire and educate the rest of us, and without them none of this would be possible. The Heritage Council is proud to be associated with each and every one of them. By thanking them first, I want to head-line the volunteers and heritage professionals because I know that your commitment to heritage is not confined to this week only but is, in fact, a year-round passion.
‘Heritage’ is a difficult word to define or explain. But if you think of the word ‘inheritance’ you can perhaps see that it means the cultural identity that each and every one of us inherited when we were born, the best of which we will preserve and pass on to the next generation as their inheritance.
You want to know what that is; what it feels like? Wrap yourselves in the black and amber, and take your place among the Cats supporters in Croke Park in a couple of weeks time and you’ll know exactly what it feels like to be identified as a Kilkenny woman or man. You can’t fake it, you can’t buy it and you can’t deny it because it is coursing through your veins. That’s your heritage you are feeling. Pride in your place and pride in what it is that makes this place your place. So don’t let anyone tell you that it isn’t real, and don’t think that heritage is something dead and in the past! Heritage is a living thing and we each of us contributes to it. If Kilkenny bring home the cup, that too will become part of your heritage here in this county and, in time, it will become part of the well-spring of history that future generations will dip into for inspiration and affirmation.
There is, however, more to cultural identity than just sport. I know that for some of you this may be hard to contemplate! Heritage Week is in fact an opportunity to explore all of the things that go into making us uniquely us; it is a time to think about how we have been shaped by the hands of history and geography, because it is not just history that affects us - we are also moulded by the places we call home: whether an apartment in a skyscraper or a cottage on the Aran Islands, a flat plain or a mountain top, each of us bears the imprint of the physical geography that surrounds us. We all know the expression ‘you can take a man from the bog but you can’t take the bog from the man’; this is a truism that acknowledges the imprinting that goes on during the relationship between people and places.
And if we bear the imprint of our landscape, believe me the natural landscape bears our imprint also. The landscape has been marked out and sometimes scarred pretty badly by us. As an archaeologist I can tell you that everything we do leaves an indelible mark on the landscape around us. There is barely an acre of this island that has not been shaped in some measure by us and by our ancestors. So, as we look about us we are gazing into our own historical reflections, some flattering, some not so flattering. To get it right all we have to do is remember that the island we call home is an ecosystem and a cultural canvas the quality of our lives is directly affected by the beauty and biodiversity around us just as surely as it would be spoiled if we surrounded ourselves with ugliness and pollution. Getting the balance right is what sustainability is all about and the research and education that the Council sponsors plays a key role in helping us achieve that goal. The Heritage Council is a kind of dedicated think-tank that brings together experts from across a wide range of disciplines to advise on sustainable integration of modernity and heritage, and to lead the way in the task of curating Irish heritage for future generations. One of the more recent European Conventions calls on the member States to recognise that knowledge and enjoyment of cultural heritage is a fundamental human right. We believe that it is not just fundamental, it is essential.
At the heart of Heritage Week is education; education about the world around us and our place in it. As they say, however, ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, and so this is the philosophy that informs all of the activities of Heritage Week: they are meant to be fun. So, enjoy yourselves. From a list of over a thousand activities, tours and events there is something for everyone. Make friends with your environment this week so that in time it will reflect well on all of us.