Address by Mr. Michael Kitt, T.D., Minister for State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the occasion of the Launch of Heritage Week 2008 at Kilkenny Castle Sunday 24 August 2008
Chairman, Chief Executive, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be in Kilkenny today to officially launch Heritage Week 2008. Kilkenny is such an appropriate setting, such beautiful surroundings and home to a spirited team of hurlers too!
Volunteering key to Heritage Week
When I was invited to speak at this launch I reflected on the energy involved in making this initiative a success. As we’re in Kilkenny, I’m reminded of the role and importance of the GAA in the history and social life of Ireland. As well as providing an annual great day out for Kilkenny in September, which as a Galway man I can only envy, the GAA has provided Ireland with a rich legacy of experiences and stories - a great part of our heritage. Its success is due in large part to the network of volunteers and the input of their expertise, support and ideas. It is a great example of what can be accomplished by voluntary effort.
Voluntary effort also underpins Heritage Week. Across the country today people are working together to organise over 1,000 events that are taking place nationwide over the next week aimed at promoting our heritage. This Irish tradition of Meithil, people freely coming together to work, lives on Heritage Week and reminds us that our shared heritage provides a strong basis for our communities and our sense of place.
18th year of Heritage Week
This is the 18th year of Heritage Week and my Department is delighted to be involved again in supporting the initiative both financially and otherwise. For the past three years this event has continued to prosper under the auspices of the Heritage Council, working in close partnership with my Department, Local Authorities, State bodies such as the OPW, museums and libraries and voluntary groups throughout the country.
Government support for Heritage
Last years Programme for Government committed the Government to upping its game even further in relation to supporting our heritage.
We are already making good progress with a record level of funding of over €97 million committed this year in support of the built and natural heritage from my Department’s budget, an increase of over €20 million on last year.
In the built heritage area, key initiatives are being pushed forward, many in collaboration with the Heritage Council, such as the new archaeology research fund, INSTAR, the National Landscape Strategy, the Walled Towns Initiative and the works supported under the Sacred Places of Public Worship Fund which was introduced this year.
Heritage Week activities
The real success story in terms of heritage protection, conservation and promotion is what we will see happening all around the country over the next week.
The diversity and range of activities taking place during the coming week, and which are wonderfully described in the very colourful Heritage Week brochure and website, speak volumes about our national interest and pride in our surroundings and culture.
This week will provide young and old alike with an enjoyable opportunity to reflect on the importance and value of heritage in our lives.
Across the county of Kilkenny there are a number of experiences for you and your family to enjoy. This county has a wealth of historic sites, beautiful villages and countryside and these will be further enlivened this week through the various planned events.
While enjoyment is essential to the activities of the coming week it is also reassuring to see the emphasis on learning that is at the core of Heritage Week. I am delighted, therefore, to be involved today in the presentation of the Marian Rollins Heritage and Education Awards.
With knowledge comes a greater sense of responsibility and appreciation of the value of Heritage as it contributes to our quality of life.
European Heritage Week
Heritage Week is part of a wider European network and today 48 countries, including some beyond the borders of the European Union, have joined in and made the event one of the biggest celebrations of European architecture, culture and heritage.
Although we are a small island nation, our links with Europe and the wider world have always been important to us. And the growing interdependence of nations is nowhere more evident than in environmental matters, highlighted by the ongoing, sometimes difficult but always essential, international engagement on climate change.
National Landscape Strategy
The quality of life for ourselves and future generations is dependent on the standard of stewardship we provide today. Ours will be a poorer existence without the wealth of nature with which we share this island or the cultural attributes that make us what we are.
History suggests that no previous generation in Ireland has had a greater impact on the country’s landscape. The unimagined changes in our built environment in recent years bring home the need to celebrate and protect the aspects of the Irish landscape that are recognised as being of both national and often international importance. Our communities thrive when we manage to balance progress with conservation.
Protecting our landscape is also an economic imperative. Fáilte Ireland’s figures show that 82% of tourists rated scenery as an important reason for visiting Ireland. The scenic landscapes and coastlines, towns and villages are at the centre for Ireland’s tourism offering and we must meet the challenge of protecting their distinctiveness and character for ourselves and for others if we are to ensure that sustainable tourism continues to thrive.
I’m pleased to say, therefore, that the Department has initiated the preparation of a National Landscape Strategy with the aim of establishing a framework to promote sustainable development, protect and enhance the environment, positively manage change, and, provide the context for appropriate development. Our colleagues in the Heritage Council are in the vanguard with us in delivering on this strategy.
"Look forward, look back, and look around." While that might sound like the battle cry of Brian Cody at a training session for the Kilkenny Hurlers in Nowlan Park, it is in fact Heritage Week’s mission statement.
Heritage Week is an opportunity to communicate the clear message that our heritage matters. Clearly, those who take an active part in the week’s activities already understand this and the hope is that their numbers will continue to grow in this and subsequent years. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank all involved in the massive voluntary input to ensuring the success of Heritage Week - in many cases it has been a 365-day undertaking for 7 days under the spotlight!
I would like to thank the staff and members of the Heritage Council for co-ordinating and promoting the Week. I would also like to commend the Office of Public Works and the Library Service for their involvement and a special word of thanks to the staff here in Kilkenny Castle who have provided this wonderful venue to launch the week’s activities. Finally, I would like to wish you all a very enjoyable week!