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Cultural Heritage and Climate Change

Scattery Island – OPW photo

The State has offered €500,000 for international research – why not more money devoted specifically to Ireland?

Should the Government establish a fund of sufficient resource to fully assess the impact of climate change on coastal and river sites of cultural and historical importance, to recognise and, where necessary, develop maintenance and protection systems for maritime areas of the country which have special importance to national heritage?

How to protect our cultural heritage from the impacts of climate change is an emerging issue which is wider than just the maritime sector, but particularly relevant in the marine sphere, with the predicted impact of rising sea levels, coastal erosion and flooding.

In July the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Environmental Protection Agency announced they were partnering to to co-fund a €500,000 research fund “to mobilise researchers across Europe and more widely to engage in collaborative research projects that would address three complementary themes of which the impact of climate change on cultural heritage is one. The others are ‘Cultural Heritage as a Resource for Climate Mitigation and Adaptation’ and ‘Sustainable Solutions for Cultural Heritage.’

Scattery Island Heritage Centre – OPW

The fund is not specific to or limited to Ireland and was described by the Department and the EPA as “…a sign of our commitment… Cultural heritage is vulnerable to climate change but also can play an active role in the transition towards a more sustainable and resilient future.”

It is a start, but should there not be more specific concentration on Ireland?

The Office of Public Works (OPW), once called the “Board of Works,” was established by an Act of Parliament in 1831. It has 780 heritage sites and 1,000 national monuments in its care, as well as quite a large inventory of historic parks, gardens and buildings. There is the inevitability of necessary decision-making about them because, in reality, not everything can be saved.

The Royal Irish Academy held a conference “Exploring climate change and culture and heritage” where the impact of climate change on culture and heritage was discussed. The point was made that cultural heritage had not been sufficiently included in climate change discussions and debates.

The OPW describes its “core focus” as  to manage, maintain and preserve Ireland’s historic buildings and Heritage.

Scattery Island in the Shannon Estuary is one of its featured sites.

On-going conservation works on the island, which is State-owned, are relevant. It has a round tower, six church ruins, a lighthouse and cottages. An early Christian settlement, once the target of Viking attacks, the 19th century pier which provides access has been identified as one vulnerable point of importance, like many piers on islands around the nation.

Scattery Island, finally vacated by residents in the 70s, ancient name Inis Cathaigh, has been documented by the Scattery Heritage Group, founded in 2012.

Tom MacSweeney

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