Message on the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of the National Heritage Council
24th October, 2020
Ireland’s rich heritage connects us, in a profound way, to our shared past. It opens a gateway to that which has gone before, gifting us with what the late Séamus Heaney once described as ‘a point of entry into a common emotional ground of memory and belonging.’
The music, dance, language and literature that defines our Irishness, the old buildings that hold so much history in their walls, the ancient craftsmanship that has survived across the centuries, the stone walls that are woven into the Irish landscape, and the many other resonances of our past and our common story, are profound ties to the heritage which has formed and shaped us.
For twenty five years, the National Heritage Council has been identifying, protecting, promoting, preserving and enhancing this national resource; facilitating its appreciation and enjoyment, and informing our approach to managing all those elements of Irish life which we have inherited from the generations gone before us.
It was, indeed, one of my privileges as then Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht to introduce the Bill that became in 1995 the Heritage Act , establishing the Heritage Council. That, I believe, was a critical moment in Ireland’s cultural history, setting in motion a process of re-engagement with our heritage and a deeper reflection on how we should define the concept of heritage.
Since the establishment of the Heritage Council our concept of that word ‘heritage’ has become a more generous one, embracing not only that which is tangible and visible, but all that is central to our identity and to our interactions with the world around us. That deeper understanding brought new challenges to the Council as they embraced a more inclusive agenda while remaining true to their original objectives.
They are challenges to which they have risen admirably, and there can be no doubting the pivotal role that the Heritage Council has played in helping to preserve and promote Ireland’s great well of history, heritage and culture.
One of the great legacies of the Council will be their building of increased public awareness of, and engagement with, our heritage since its establishment in 1995. Initiatives such as the the Irish National Strategic Archaeological Research Programme, the Discovery Programme, the High Nature Value Farming Programme, National Heritage Week and the Museum Standards Programme among many others have all promoted a deeper understanding of our heritage in all its different manifestations.
If our cultural heritage is to be carried forward, informing a future yet to be shaped by our children and grandchildren, it is critical that our young people come to value and understand this critical portal into that which has gone before. The Heritage in Schools Scheme has been a greatly significant initiative that has benefitted the many thousands of primary school children across Ireland who have learnt of the importance of our national heritage and culture, and how by preserving it we are also preserving of our unique national identity. It is through such education that all that was best about our shared past will survive, living on, occupying new spaces and enabling re-interpretation whilst retaining profound ties to the heritage that formed and shaped us.
Across Ireland, places of natural diversity such as our mountains, peatlands, rivers, and lakes are a priceless component of our national heritage. Not only do they connect us to the very roots and foundations of a land and nation that has evolved across centuries, they also supply us with clean air, water, food and diverse habitats. The establishment by the Heritage Council, in 2007, of the National Biodiversity Data Centre provides us with a greatly important reserve of readily accessible information, which enables better identification of key biodiversity areas and improves our decision making process as we work to conserve the natural balance in our climate system and biosphere.
Our tangible heritage, too, has greatly benefitted from the work of the Heritage Council through its valuable support for the conservation and repair of so many of the historic buildings, traditional structures, places of worship and treasured artifacts that track, so beautifully, the complex pathways which have led us to where we stand today. Many of these projects have involved local groups and local heritage and preservation societies, working in a spirit of community to safeguard and protect that which speaks of a shared past.
As a nation we can be deeply grateful to the Heritage Council for its generous work in making heritage part of the community and the community part of our heritage framework. As it marks its twenty-fifth anniversary, the Council has much to look back on with pride. I congratulate it on reach this milestone anniversary and wish all those involved in its valuable work every success as you continue to protect the valuable heritage that speaks so quietly of all that has gone before us.