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Community Outreach: Sharing Research with Connacht Communities
Investing in community
As stated in the Introduction to the project, communities throughout Ireland have become increasingly interested over the last decade in understanding the history and archaeology of their local areas and parishes. At least some of this interest seems to be a reaction to the hubris, short-termism and greed of the Celtic Tiger years and is linked to a realisation in many of these communities that sustainable streams of income need to be put in place at local level to halt rural and urban decline. In many places, cultural tourism has been identified by these communities as having the potential to help economic growth. This is partly based on the fact that international research has demonstrated that cultural tourists spend substantially more than ordinary tourists do. In this respect, many community leaders and activists now realise that archaeological and historical sites, places of cultural interest, have an economic value because they attract visitors, who generate much-needed income. Furthermore, although it is harder to quantify as such things are subtle, this growing interest in heritage is also linked to a genuine curiosity about and respect for the past that was always there in Irish society, although these aspects of our culture were weakened, often deliberately so, during Celtic Tiger years. The resurgence of these traditional values in the last number of years has to be welcomed. The acknowledgement of a shared past within a community builds bonds across social and economic divides. The existence of Heritage Officers in virtually all county councils (an initiative of the Heritage Council) has meant that communities now have professional help to assist them in the task of unlocking the related economic, social and educational potential of their local heritage, in all its aspects. Furthermore, Heritage Officers often act as a conduit between local communities and academics, helping the former access the knowledge and research available in universities and institutes of technology that is of direct relevance to their areas and parishes.
The participants in the Connacht Project, realising all this, endeavour to share their research with local communities throughout the province (and further afield, if need be) for the mutual benefit of all. In particular, a very fruitful collaboration has grown up between Roscommon’s Heritage Officer, Nollaig Feeney, and the Connacht Project over the years.
The success of the Rathcroghan Resource Community (RRC) provides a particularly good example of such imaginative collaborative initiatives. This group was successful in its bid in 2018, under the European Innovation Partnership (EIP-Agri) through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, for its project entitled ‘Farming Rathcroghan: Sustainable Farming in the Rathcroghan Archaeological Landscape’ and has been awarded a grant of €0.98m to implement this project over the course of the next five years (see: https://www.nationalruralnetwork.ie/innovation).
|Photograph Caption: At a meeting of the Rathcroghan Resource Community in the Rathcroghan Visitor Centre on 11July 2018; (left to right) Mr Gabriel O’Grady, Rathcroghan Farmer; Ms Nollaig Feeney, Heritage Officer, Roscommon County Council; Mr Joe Fenwick, Archaeology, School of Geography and Archaeology, NUI Galway; Mr Daniel Curley, Project Coordinator/Manager, Rathcroghan Visitor Centre; Dr Caitriona Maher, Project Plan Consultant/Author; Ms Helena Fitzgerald, Project Plan Consultant/Author, Mr Gerard Healy, Rathcroghan Farmer; Mr Michael Scott, Rathcroghan Farmer.|
The Farming Rathcroghan project has been developed using a locally led partnership approach. Its operational group, the Rathcroghan Resource Community, consists of a Lead Partner, Farming Rathcroghan CLG (comprising directors from Rathcroghan Farmers, Tulsk Action Group and Rathcroghan Visitor Centre) and various Operational Group Members (comprising; Archaeology, School of Geography and Archaeology, NUI Galway; Roscommon County Council; Teagasc, Agriculture and Food Development Authority; World Heritage Unit, National Monuments Service, Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht).
Rathcroghan is a particularly well-preserved and internationally significant archaeological landscape, one of a small group of ‘royal’ sites which are included under the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht’s tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage Status (Royal Sites of Ireland). The Farming Rathcroghan Project’s objectives are to manage, care for and conserve this important cultural landscape by implementing a programme of economically sustainable and ecologically sound farming practices, and also facilitating visitor access to the area. The project will formulate, test and develop a suite of innovative management solutions designed to sustain a viable and vibrant rural farming community in the context of a culturally and ecologically sensitive landscape. In so doing the project aims to raise awareness among the general public of the significance of Rathcroghan as a farmed archaeological landscape and promote the proactive role of farmers and farming in the care and maintenance of the living landscape in harmony with its rich cultural heritage and ecological assets. As part of this programme it will implement a range of best farming and archaeological practice to actively monitor, manage, maintain and present this ancient cultural landscape in an environmentally and ecologically-friendly way. Through engagement with key stakeholders and the National Monuments Service, archaeological expertise will be made available locally through the Farming Rathcroghan Project to facilitate and support the local farming community to protect, manage and conserve the archaeological and cultural landscape of Rathcroghan.
This will be an ambitious and challenging enterprise, but one whose innovations and successes have the potential to be applied to other culturally sensitive farming landscapes throughout Ireland and the European Union and so can be seen as a flagship project for others to follow in the years to come.
(Indirectly related to the Farming Rathcroghan Project is a recent submission to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in relation to Heritage Ireland 2030. See: Heritage Ireland 2030 submission to DoAH&G by Joe Fenwick 2019)
Publications linked to Community Outreach: Sharing Research with Connacht Communities.
Margaret Murphy and Kieran O'Conor. 2008, Roscommon Castle - A Visitor's Guide. Roscommon County Council: Roscommon.
Kieran O'Conor and Brian Shanahan. 2013, Roscommon Abbey - A Visitor's Guide. Roscommon County Council: Roscommon.
Rory Sherlock. 2016, Athlone Castle: An introduction to the history and architecture of Athlone Castle, Westmeath County Council.
Kieran O’Conor and Brian Shanahan. 2018, Rindoon Castle and Deserted Medieval Town - A Visitor's Guide. Roscommon County Council: Roscommon.
Guide Brochures / Heritage Guides
Margaret Murphy and Kieran O’Conor. 2008, Roscommon Castle: The history of a national landmark, Roscommon County Council: Roscommon.
Brian Shanahan and Kieran O’Conor. 2013, Roscommon Abbey – a Dominican Priory, Roscommon County Council: Roscommon.
John Waddell. 2009, Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon - where the Táin Bó Cúailnge began, Archaeology Ireland Heritage Guide No. 44, Wordwell, Dublin.
Kieran O’Conor wrote the text for the seven information boards located in different parts of the deserted medieval town and castle at Rindoon, Co. Roscommon.
Joe Fenwick and John Waddell provided the information and many of the images for the display at Rathcroghan Visitor Centre, Tulsk, Co. Roscommon.
Margaret Murphy and Kieran O’Conor wrote the text for the information board at Roscommon Castle.