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Teamwork conserves Clare monastic site


HISTORIC church ruins at Clonrush, Whitegate, have been conserved thanks to an initiative between the local community, the council and the National Monuments Service.
A socially distanced review of the works was facilitated in recent weeks between members of Whitegate Community Council and the local authority, at the 12th century monastic complex which is dedicated to St Colmán.
Restoration works were carried out to safeguard the historic church ruins, which were at risk of collapse and had deteriorated in recent years.
The main focus of the conservation works was the ruins of the stone church, but the site also contains many interesting remnants of its ecclesiastical past, including the monks’ house (Tig na mBráthar), original arched entrance gate and a little, stone-roofed oratory known as Poll Cholmáin (St Colmán’s Cave).
The churchyard also contains many fine examples of carved memorials and ironwork from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The works on the church and the archway gate were carried out by Tom Howard Building Conservation Ltd under licence from the National Monuments Service.
Local historian Alfie O’Brien was key in providing local community historical input and, together with Risteard Ua Cróinín, the appointed conservation specialist, contributed towards a specially-commissioned interpretive panel for visitors to the church ground.
A Historical Tour of Clonrush Graveyard by Alfie O’Brien was published following National Heritage Week and, although this publication did not form part of this Community Monuments Fund, the informative and eloquently written guide, along with the recently completed conservation work, now ensures that the site and its heritage values are safe and recorded for future generations.
In addition, an aerial and digital survey of the national monument was prepared by John Treacy, Burial Ground Coordinator.
The project was delivered by Ruth Hurley, Senior Executive Architect with Clare County Council, who acted as the Project Manager on behalf of the Planning Department and the Rural and Community Department who were the administrators of the grant fund for the DHLGH.
Councillor Joe Cooney, Cathaoirleach of Killaloe Municipal District, complimented the project and offered his every good wish to the local community on behalf of all the elected members.
Councillor Pat Burke thanked the council on behalf of the community of Whitegate.
“I want to sincerely thank Clare County Council and in particular Ruth Hurley for overseeing the recent works carried out at Clonrush Cemetery,” he said.
“It would have been impossible for the local community to carry out such works without the help of the local authority and for this we are deeply indebted. This project has ensured that the ruins at Clonrush have been protected for generations to come.”
Leonard Cleary, Director of Rural Development, Clare County Council, described the work as “an excellent example of rural development whereby community, State agencies and the local authority worked together”.
“Projects such as this are a model that could be replicated in other communities with appropriate national funding,” he added.
“Within the local authority the skills of staff involved in services including architectural, burial grounds unit, heritage, conservation and planning and community development wrapped around the local voluntary and parish effort in Clonrush.”
Ms Hurley noted that many national monument sites remain in a delicate state across County Clare.
“Groups like Whitegate Community Council, tending to and championing local heritage, are key in protecting our rural heritage assets and keeping community involvement in local history alive,” she said.
“Subtle, appropriate interventions, using a conservation approach, skilled craftsmen with professional supervision, achieves the main goal of safeguarding these national monuments for future generations.
“Aside from the preservation of historical and heritage value, in some instances there can be benefits to the local economy through managed tourism and heritage awareness.
“This project is a credit to the local community for their endeavours to safeguard the heritage site at Clonrush for future generations.”
Bernadette Haugh, Acting Senior Officer, Rural and Community Department, Clare County Council, said that the site at Clonrush demonstrates some of the diversity of the works carried out by the Directorate on behalf of rural communities and highlighted the importance of interdepartmental cooperation with the Planning Department and the Area Offices along with key interaction with the Whitegate Community Council and Councillor Pat Burke.
“The sensitive conservation investment in this 12th century monastic site under the Community Monuments Fund brought together a rural community group to address their local built heritage environment,” she said.
“As a result, it will stand the test of time for future visitors to experience, which is a testament to all those involved.”
The scheme under the Community Monuments Fund was supported by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH) and involves investing essential capital in valuable archaeological heritage and helping owners and custodians of archaeological monuments to safeguard them for the benefit of communities and the public.
The fund was administered by the National Monuments Service of the DHLGH through the Rural Development Directorate and the Planning Department of Clare County Council.

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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