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Thursday 28 August 2014

Heritage projects shelved due to huge funding cuts

Paul Melia

Published 18/04/2013 | 05:00

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Restoration of the Wonderful Barn, between Leixlip and Celbridge in Co Kildare, has been shelved due to cutbacks

The State body responsible for protecting our cultural heritage has revealed it has no money to help local communities protect and restore some of our most historic buildings.

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Writing in the Irish Independent on International Day for Monuments and Sites, the Heritage Council has accused the Government of taking the "easy option", after its funding was slashed from €20m in 2008 to just €5.7m.

Last year it spent €1.4m on 270 projects ranging from re-roofing thatched cottages, to restoring walls in medieval towns and funding studies on wildlife and endangered species. But key projects such as surveys of the Hill of Tara and Bru na Boinne have been shelved because of a lack of funding.

Other projects affected include the Wonderful Barn in Co Kildare, a famine-relief building built in 1734 to store grain, and the Shell House on the Carton Estate which is decorated with sea shells, both of which require restoration works.

The warning comes as a new report obtained by the Irish Independent warns that UNESCO World Heritage Site Skellig Michael is "fragile" and that too many visitors are arriving on the island at once.

The report prepared for the Office of Public Works (OPW) warns that the site is being damaged by the volume of visitors and recommends staggering arrivals.

The number has been capped at 180 a day since 1994, but the vast bulk arrive between 11am and 11.30am, departing between 1.30pm and 2pm, which results in damage to walls, terraces, steps and paving stones.

Some 11,530 people visited last year. Located 12km off Bolus Head in Kerry, Skellig Michael was a monastic settlement for almost 500 years and was first recorded in 'The Martyrology of Tallaght', written near the end of the 8th Century. Its sacking by Vikings is referred to in the Annals of Ulster in 824, and it was abandoned in the early 13th century.

"The frequent need to accommodate between 75 and 95 visitors at the first scheduled talk of the day increases dependence of visitors upon drystone structures, reduces visitor experience and severely diminishes access to the core elements of the monastic site," the report says. "This leads to a rush ascent, site viewing and descent. This increases impacts upon the structure and site."

Local boatmen should be encouraged to stagger arrival and departure times to reduce peak numbers, it adds.

Des Lavelle has been bringing visitors to the monastic ruin from Portmagee in Co Kerry for the past 40 years. "To stagger the visitors is a noble idea but it has a lot of practical problems," Mr Lavelle said.

"We're very much constrained by the weather and you've got to run when you get the opportunity and you can't always pick the time you want to leave.

The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said it was a matter for the Heritage Council to decide how to spend its funding, in a time of "competing priorities for limited resources".

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