Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan TD, speaking at the 20th meeting of the European Archaeological Council
Ta Fáilte is fiche romhaibh anseo go Cathair Átha Cliath. Is mór an onóir domsa freastal oraibh an mhaidin aoibhinn earraigh seo. Agus guím gach rath ar obair na hócáide.
A very good morning to you all. I want to wish you all a very warm welcome to Dublin and to Ireland. It is a real honour for my Department to host this 20th meeting of the European Archaeological Council and I am delighted to be able to open your Symposium.
At few times in the modern era have European bonds been tested as they are now. Against those challenges it is so reassuring to see such strong engagement and collaboration as shown by your presence in such large numbers here today.
Our own European values are strong and we have prized greatly our engagement with the EAC over many years. Many of the issues we face are common and it is essential that we continue to engage, share and learn from each other on how to address those issues.
I want to thank our colleagues in the Office of Public Works for working so closely with my Department’s National Monuments Service in organising this event and for the use of this castle and wonderful conference venue.
And more importantly, given the theme of your Symposium, I want to acknowledge the great work of the Office of Public Works in consultation with my Department in the day to day management and care of over 1,000 monuments in state care for which we have direct responsibility.
All of us in this room are custodians of a wonderful European archaeological legacy. This heritage underpins the sense of place of our nations and communities, and indeed it reinforces our separate national identities across a shared continent.
Our archaeological heritage strengthens our culture, economy and society. It enriches our lives. It gives life to our communities.
In Ireland, as in your own countries, our archaeological monuments provide an enormously rich tapestry across the landscape.
More than perhaps across most European countries, many archaeological monuments on this island, of which we have over 150,000 recorded, survive upstanding across landscapes that have not suffered the ravages of widespread 20th century warfare or the extremes of agricultural intensification.
They present a source of delight and wonder to communities and citizens and for the many visitors drawn to our shores. In our social and cultural lives they help nurture our sense of belonging, well-being, identity and place. They are places of learning, of memory, of enjoyment and leisure.
Ensuring people have access to this archaeological heritage and have opportunities to engage with it is critical for our communities and their cultural, economic and social development.
And we are charged with protecting this heritage for future generations to enjoy. Our archaeological monuments and historic properties in the care of the State are attracting huge numbers – almost 8 million visits were made to our sites in 2017.
Millions of very welcome tourists come here and it is not for our elusive Irish sunshine. They are the culturally curious who wish to immerse themselves in the heritage for which Ireland is well known. My department’s partnership with the OPW and our tourism board Failte Ireland is helping deliver much needed and improved facilities and new interpretation at key heritage sites in our care.
Of course such popularity of our ancient sites does present challenges in terms of sustainability. It challenges our policies and our management of the sites and we recognise we must do even more in our efforts to conserve and protect them.
Recognising this responsibility to protect our monuments and heritage properties, my Department is preparing to embark on an ambitious 10 year programme of new investment in our national monuments.
This programme of work will see a renewed focus on conservation, working to protect our sites against the pressures and impacts of time and climate change.
The importance of our heritage to communities and citizens is being directly voiced to us by hundreds of people across our country through a public consultation exercise which my department is currently carrying out on the development of a new National Heritage Plan.
This new plan will also embrace natural heritage and biodiversity, and will provide an overarching framework for the protection and management of our archaeological heritage for the next decade and more.
The new Plan will have a dedicated section specifically dealing with the management of our own heritage estate, and how it can be best protected, maintained and made more accessible.
The very first week of my appointment as Minister I had the wonderful opportunity to visit our World Heritage Site of Bru na Boinne, where I understand some of you will visit on Saturday. I joined the hundreds of people gathered at our Great Passage Tomb of Newgrange on the winter solstice when the dawn sun’s rays slowly illuminate the burial passage and chamber.
The annual celebration of that remarkable 5,000 year old phenomenon which I witnessed are a vibrant expression of the value that is placed on our heritage and a reminder of our obligations to protect it for millennia to come.
I am afraid the centre will be closed on Saturday when you visit, but it is for good reason as the state embarks on a 5 million euro refurbishment of the visitor centre which welcomes over 300,000 visitors a year.
And that work will enhance the visitor experience at this world heritage site and bring in the stories of remarkable new discoveries which will transform our understanding of Neolithic society and landscape around Newgrange.
The discovery last year of these remarkable sites at Newgrange which appeared fleetingly as cropmarks on account of the very dry summer received global media attention. They captured the public imagination in a magical way, which reinforces our need to tell the public the intriguing ancient stories of our monuments and landscapes and protect them as best we can.
All our efforts in archaeological protection must of course be supported by a strong legislative framework. Our own archaeological legislation is already strong. It enshrines proper conduct of archaeological excavation, which has supported the development of an archaeological profession here and ensures the protection of our key ancient monuments and artefacts.
The history of this archaeological legislation dates back to the 19th century. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the first laws which set the foundation for the state taking direct responsibility for the care and management of ancient monuments.
Since the Reformation during the reign of Henry VIII, the church had continued to be in possession of a large number of churches and cathedrals across Ireland, predominantly medieval buildings which often incorporated the remains of much older churches and other ecclesiastical structures.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, many of these churches had been abandoned as places of worship and were falling into decay. No organisation had the resources or skills to care for these ruins and their situation looked bleak in terms of preservation.
William Gladstone, the British prime minister, had been struck by the beauty of the church ruins that he saw during a visit to Glendalough in the heart of the Wicklow mountains.
So when the Prime Minister’s government began to draft legislation to withdraw official state support from the Church, a section was inserted that allowed for any church or ecclesiastical ruin of historical or archaeological interest, and in need of preservation, to be transferred to the State so that it could ‘be preserved as a national monument’.
The origins of this historic legislation, borne out of a dire need to protect heritage, echo in our responsibilities today and a century and a half since the State took on these responsibilities we look now to continue that duty to protect. We hope this year to progress through our parliament new legislation to repeal the old laws and create a unified single law that strengthens archaeological protection even more.
It will also allow for the ratification of various international conventions, including the 1995 Rome Unidroit Convention and the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.
International forums such as the EAC for exchanging ideas on heritage and building relationships are critically important. As Europe deals with its current challenges the very strong relationships which you are building through this Council are ever more essential.
We are proud to play our part in nurturing those relationships and enabling them to grow ever stronger.
I wish you well over the next few days with your sharing of information and your discussions on how best to manage and protect our European archaeological heritage. We look forward to seeing the publication of this symposium’s discussions which my Department will be pleased to fund.
As I leave you to your discussions I am sure you wish to join with me in acknowledging Leonard’s [pronounced Leyonard] immense contribution over recent years and wish him well as he leaves his role as EAC President. And I also congratulate your new President, Barney Sloane, to whom we confirm our continued support in the years to come.
So I trust you will enjoy your Irish stay and your important discussions over the coming days.
I will conclude by quoting John Henrik Clarke, the American historian, professor and pioneer in the creation of Pan-African studies. He said:
“A people’s relationship to their heritage is the same as the relationship of a child to its mother.”
We must all therefore be ambitious in meeting our shared obligations to protect and care for our heritage and I look forward to our continued engagement with European colleagues to inform and help us meeting ours.