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Edel Barry, Clare Community Archaeologist pictured at St. Fachtnan's Cathedral in Kilfenora. Photograph by John Kelly

Edel’s passion for the past finds new direction in Clare

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A PASSION for Clare’s heritage, particularly the county’s many historic and traditional buildings, is  the driving inspiration for Edel Barry, who has recently been appointed Community Archaeologist. 

The Kilfenora native, who has an MPhil in Archaeology from University College Cork (UCC), takes over the role at an exciting time, when community development groups and individuals are pioneering all sorts of interesting projects.

It is also a time when significant funding is being made available for important local heritage projects. Edel’s role itself is jointly funded by The Heritage Council and Clare County Council, and from her base at Ennistymon’s Digital Hub, she is planning an ambitious strategy for the coming months.

“The Council has had a number of great advisors on archaeology over the year, but there hasn’t been a role like mine in recent times,” she told The Champion.

“There are now Community Archaeologists in a number of counties, including Donegal and Wicklow. The support programme is countrywide and there are now a few of us out there.

“In Clare, when Dick Cronin retired, the Heritage section in the Council was down to just one person [Heritage Officer] Congella McGuire. Elaine Lynch is an advisor in the Burren area and works closely with farmers.

“Community groups also need support to identify and protect monument and areas of archaeological interest and that’s where my role comes into play.

“At the moment, there’s great funding available if groups have identified projects, and it’s great to see that money coming to Clare. Often people just don’t know where to start – be they groups or individual land or property owners – and they don’t know how to meet the criteria for funding. That’s something I can advise on.

“There’s a funding announcement due to be made soon and in advance of that, I’m working to get ducks in a row on several projects. There are various projects at different stages and I’m working to get them to the next step.

“I’m also available to advise people who make finds, or who have monuments on their lands. Really, it’s awe-inspiring when you meet individuals and groups who are so well informed. It’s a pleasure to work with them and I hope to be able to help them as much as possible.”

Working on archaeological projects in the community is a role that Edel has been enjoying, particularly given how rich Clare’s heritage is.

“It’s mind-blowing really,” she said. “You find yourself tripping over monuments everywhere you turn. A lovely part of the role is being able to get to know the archaeological heritage of Clare, because I’m from here but because I was working all around Ireland, I didn’t get the chance before to look at what’s in this county.”

Some of the interesting projects Edel has been involved in, so far, have been showcased on Heritage Night.

“I had seven events altogether, including a biodiversity walk on a Winterage farm in the Burren, which was a lovely day,” she outlined.

“I also ran a kid’s art project called ‘What’s Your Favourite High Cross?’. That was based on the crosses in Kilfenora. Elaine produced line drawings which we made available for colouring in and those were on display in the Burren Centre. We also had an outline of monuments of Inchovea in Kilfenora. The name means ‘Meadow of the Birch Trees’. The author, Pat O’Looney who attended the school there wrote a memoir called ‘At Least Once a Year’ and he came along and gave a talk.”

In the East of the county, Edel has been working on a survey project in Whitegate, at the foothills of the Slieve Aughty mountains.

“Blanket bog has been cut away there and there are a number of pre-historic monuments which are, as yet, undocumented,” she explained. “The landowner there, Micheál Pearl is very interested in this project.”

A Heritage Week project that was particularly close to Edel’s heart was a webinar on restoring old houses. She explained where the title, ‘Would You Not Just Knock It?’ came from.

“There are lots of old houses out there that are protected structures,” she noted, “but there are lots of others that are not. We restored an old 1930s house in Kilfenora and I really am interested in the built heritage and wanted to work with what was already in the area.

“So many times, so many people looked at what we were doing and asked, ‘Would you not just knock it?’. It’s sad to think that that’s the approach. I know there are some circumstances where things have to be knocked down. Sometimes, there’s no choice, but in a lot of cases, it’s doable. We’re also in a massive housing crisis and the Croí Conaithe initiative [for refurbishing old properties] has just been extended to cover rural properties.”

Edel grew up around a mile from her current home in Kilfenora and attended national school in the village. She went to secondary school in Ennistymon before studying Archaeology at NUI Galway.

“I had the opportunity to do a survey for The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (buildingsofireland.ie) and I realised that I’m very interested in built heritage. I did an MPhil at UCC in 2008 and my thesis was on the narrow gauge railways of Munster. There are three in Cork, two in Kerry and one in Clare, The West Clare Railway, so I got to walk the Clare line and record it.”

After the Celtic Tiger, archaeology became a difficult career and many had to retrain and leave the profession. Edel said she was fortunate enough to be able to keep going.

“I was able to tip away, living in North Clare, through a combination of archaeology projects and other jobs like Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL),” she outlined.

“In 2015, I got a full-time role with a Kilkenny-based company, which involved travelling widely working on projects in the areas of planning, pre-planning and monitoring. I’m delighted now with my current role in Clare and relishing the opportunity to get to know what’s going on and what is here to be explored and developed.”

Projects already in the pipeline include a tower house in Kilnamona.

“The landowner is keen to see a bit of action there, and there’s a very active community group,” Edel said.

“In Kilfenora, an application will be made for funds to stop water ingress into the cathedral, that’s detrimental to buildings and some emergency work will be needed there. In Killaloe, there’s a very active group looking at more works at St Flannan’s Cathedral, which will bring it into use for the community. I’ve also been advising Michael Houlihan from Quin who is carrying out a survey of cillíns [Children’s Burial Grounds].”

Social Media is also proving to be a great way of increasing public awareness of heritage and archaeology in Clare.

“On Facebook and Instagram, the accounts are Clare Community Archaeology and every Thursday, I post details of different kinds of archaeological sites in the county,” Edel explained.

“I’ve done things like wedge tombs and lime kilns. It’s nice for people to know the number of these kinds of sites in Clare and I really want to get a good geographical spread around the county.

“I also did a series on Heritage workers in Clare because there are so many great people and I’ve posted about Congella, Elaine, John Rhattigan of Clare County Museum as well as Eoin Madigan and Dominic Keogh who are stonemasons.

“I’ve been trying to maximise social media as a way of getting accurate, digestible and interesting material out there. The feedback has been great and people have been telling me they can now point out archaeological features to their children while they’re out in the car. It’s great that people can start to get to know their locality and that’s one of my big aims in this job.”

Edel can be contacted by email to clarecommunityarchaeology@gmail.com. 

Fiona McGarry
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Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald.
Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti.
She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at The University of Galway.
If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at The University of Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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