Heritage Council celebrates 25th anniversary

Nuacht /

Celebrating the establishment of the Heritage Council 25 years on.

Heritage is at the heart of Irish communities and shapes our identity, not just as a nation, but also as a society. That’s according to chief executive of the Heritage Council, Virginia Teehan, speaking as the Heritage Council marks its 25th anniversary.

Established in 1995 as a result of the Heritage Bill that was introduced by then Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Michael D Higgins, it promotes interest, education, knowledge, and pride in our heritage. It reaches into communities across the country by working with groups such as public authorities, educational bodies, youth groups, and many other organisations. In doing this, it promotes a knowledge and appreciation of built, natural and cultural heritage, such as monuments, archaeological objects, architectural heritage, flora and fauna, heritage gardens, wildlife habitats, seascapes, wrecks, geology, traditional skills and past times, to name but a few areas.

The Heritage Council also provides policy advice for Government on heritage issues such as sustainability, landscape management, high nature value farming, forestry, and climate change.

Paying tribute to President Michael D Higgins for his role in establishing the Heritage Council, Ms Teehan said: “He had the vision of bringing our heritage into our homes, our hearts and our communities.”

She added: “Our heritage is precious. It is invaluable to the country’s economic wellbeing, but also to the wellbeing of every Irish resident. Heritage plays a huge part in our tourism sector, and in turn in our economy. While we have always appreciated how important it is to our individual, physical, mental, and social wellbeing, this has never been more obvious than during the current pandemic, when the restrictions brought a new focus on the hidden heritage in our local areas.

“The Heritage Council has achieved so much over the past 25 years in highlighting the value of our heritage. We continually build new relationships with communities across the country, through voluntary groups, schools, local and national government, and the national cultural institutions to develop a wide understanding across society of the value of our heritage and building capacity for organisations and communities to continue their heritage work. Standout initiatives include:

  • The heritage officer programme, which has resulted in a heritage officer role in most local authorities across the country.
  • The Heritage in Schools programme is marking its 20th anniversary this year. For primary school children, it aims to generate greater awareness, respect, interest in and appreciation of our heritage among 4-12-year-olds by encouraging teachers and pupils to engage with their local heritage in a hands-on, interactive and meaningful way through place-based learning and learning in the outdoor classroom.
  • The Museum Standards Programme for Ireland was established in 2007 and benchmarks and promotes professional standards of care in collections in the Irish museum sector.
  • Also established in 2007, the National Biodiversity Data Centre collects and manages data on Ireland’s biodiversity to document our wildlife resource and to track how it is changing over time.
  • In 2008, the Strategic Archaeological Research [INSTAR] Programme was launched. This research and funding programme supports Irish archaeology projects, promotes collaboration and partnerships, and features an online archaeology resource.
  • In 2009, we partnered with the National Monuments Service to publish the Brú na Bóinne Research Framework project, which assesses knowledge of and research into the UNESCO World Heritage Site and proposes a strategy for future research with a view to sustainable management.
  • National Heritage Week is the jewel in the crown. This year, despite the COVID-19 restrictions, more than 770 heritage groups and enthusiasts took part in National Heritage Week, when we innovated to create an online project-based initiative.
  • We have also provided heritage grants over the years, including buildings; thatch; biodiversity; museums and archives publications, and communities.”

Ms Teehan added: “Protection and promotion of our heritage is vitally important. It allows us to better understand who we are and how we got here. Critically, it helps us to make informed decisions on where we are going. To this end, the Heritage Council’s role in advising the Government on heritage issues such as sustainability, landscape management, high nature value farming, forestry, and climate change is proving to be increasingly important.”

This year has been a difficult one for the heritage sector, with COVID-19 restrictions having a deep impact as a result of closures, job losses, delays and increased home working. A Heritage Council survey conducted in April 2020 found that two-thirds of heritage sector workers suffered loss or postponement of work due to COVID-19; more than half (51%) experienced postponement or cancellation of events, and 52% had experienced temporary closure. Some 46% had experienced a lack of revenue streams.

Commenting, Ms Teehan said: “We are very appreciative of the significant increase in the Council’s budget for next year. This commitment by Government will allow us to reinstate the community grants scheme and to develop a new ‘inclusive heritage’ programme, which aims to encourage diversity and inclusivity in heritage practice. With the support and engagement of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, we are also identifying additional budgets that can be frontloaded into supports for heritage NGOs that have sustained significant losses due to COVID-19. This funding recognises the role that heritage plays in supporting local economies and recognises the work of communities.”

Chairman of the Heritage Council, Michael Parsons said: “When the Heritage Council was established in 1995, the concept of heritage was still generally broken up into disciplines such as archaeology and wildlife. Roles such as the local authority heritage officer did not exist. These are now funded by the Heritage Council and play a central role in promoting heritage locally. A quarter of a century later, the Heritage Council has established a wide-ranging network of collaborators - both individuals and organisations - which has made our understanding and appreciation of our heritage all the richer. I am very proud of what the Heritage Council has achieved over the past 25 years and I look forward to welcoming our new board members over the coming weeks to set the foundations for the coming years.”

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