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The Burren Full Moon. Photograph by Carsten Krieger.

Global status bid for Clare heritage sites branded ‘lacklustre’

GLOBAL status for a number of Clare heritage sites has the potential to bolster tourism in the wake of the pandemic, according to Clare’s Independent TD. Deputy Michael McNamara is urging the council to get behind efforts to secure UNESCO world heritage status for a number of Clare sites including Inis Cealtra. In a strongly-worded statement, the Scariff native contrasted the efforts to light global tourism sites in green for St Patrick’s Day with what he sees as a lack of action on securing longer international heritage status.

Deputy McNamara described Ireland’s efforts to green global historic sites such as the Sydney Opera House, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Pyramids of Giza for St Patrick’s Day as in marked contrast to “lacklustre efforts to win recognition for historic sites in our own country”.

Nationally, a review is taking place of a tentative list for consideration by UNESCO, which has the power to award a permanent international designation to selected heritage sites. The closing date for councils to make their suggestions to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is late June and Deputy Michael McNamara is calling for sites including Inis Cealtra, Cahercommaun Ringfort and The Burren to be proposed. He has also suggested that further sites such as Scattery Island and the Mooghaun Hillfort, close to Newmarket-on-Fergus be included.

“Tourism Ireland’s Global Greening project comes about as a result of much effort and some cost to the State (€48,583 in 2019), but I accept that it results in a benefit, not limited to direct income, to our State.  We have, however, neglected to progress various sites in Ireland to UNESCO world heritage status over the past decade,” Deputy McNamara said.

The bid to have Inis Cealtra recognised internationally dates back over a decade, and Deputy McNamara has met representatives of UNESCO on the matter. In 2010, Holy Island was originally named on the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tentative List for Ireland as part of a group of early medieval monastic sites along with Clonmacnoise, Durrow, Glendalough, Kells and Monasterboice in 2010. Cahercommaunwas a one of a group of five Western Stone Forts on the List, among with Dun Aonghusa on Inishmore and Caherconree, Benagh and Staigue, all of which are in Kerry.

“In 2014, I met with UNESCO representatives and learned that there had been little or no communication from the Irish government on the matter for some time and little effort had been made to advance the Irish tentative list since it was handed over in 2010,” he said.

“When I subsequently raised the matter with the then Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in 2015, I was informed that Kerry County Council had informed the Department that it did not wish to be involved in progressing the potential Western Stone Forts nomination. This was also the case with Clonmacnoise, which had obvious implications both for the potential nomination of the site in its own right, as well as for its status as a crucial element of the potential nomination of the Early Medieval Monastic Sites group.”

The Scariff native is highly critical of the lack of progress on the matter, saying successive governments have failed the pursue the prestigious designation, despite its potential to “bring worldwide attention to our unique patrimony and to the natural and built heritage sites themselves”.

“As well as a requirement to ensure any development is sympathetic to and protects the integrity of the sites, which may explain the reluctance of some, more cavalier local authorities, designation also typically results in an increase in tourism, with associated economic benefits,” he said.

In response to a recent Parliamentary Question (PQ), Deputy McNamara was told that a new tentative list is being developed by the National Monuments Service, with a June 30 deadline for applications from local authorities and community organisations for sites or properties of natural and/or cultural heritage to be included.

“Given the increase in tourism typically generated by World Heritage site designation, and the unprecedented challenges that will face the domestic and international tourism sector when we open up to world again, every effort must be made to advance built and natural heritage sites across Ireland to the World Heritage list,” he said. “There is considerable work and time involved in the preparation of nomination documentation and a management plan for a location, including a public consultation process, but I believe the extensive public consultation that has already been undertaken locally in respect of all of the sites I would like to see proposed means they could be strong candidate for inclusion on the new list that is being compiled by the Department.”

Deputy McNamara pressed the Department to actively pursue the designation of Irish sites as World Heritage status during his first term as a TD and remains critical of the fact that Ireland currently only has two sites on the UNESCO world heritage list, Skellig Michael and Newgrange.

“That is the same number as Afghanistan which have spent much of this century in internal strife and without and effective government. By comparison, Austria and Denmark both have ten world heritage sites, the latter having advanced five sites to designation in the past decade,” he said.

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 NUI 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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