This is National Heritage Week. It started last Saturday,18th of August, and continues to next Sunday, 26th of August. The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, recently launched the special week that comprises Ireland's annual celebration of our national heritage.
Heritage is defined as that which we inherit from those who went before us. It is the sum total of all that is passed down to us by the generations that preceded us. That part is simple enough. The tricky part comes when we have to define the actual value we place of our heritage. An example might illustrate the point.
Say an elderly female relative of yours dies and you are involved in tidying her personal belongings. You come across a copy of an old newspaper. What to do with it? Throw it out may be an initial reaction; hopefully in the recycle bin. On the face of it, an old newspaper full of stale news is of little use to anyone but it is now part of your personal heritage. You decide what value to place on it. It is just another useless item to go in the bin?
But you pause. Why did your elderly relative keep that particular paper? You flick through it and to you surprise there is a photo of your dear departed on her wedding day surrounded by friends, family and relations. You are amazed by the find because you never saw that particular photo before.
Suddenly the old newspaper acquires a value. Dog ears are smoothed back, the paper is neatly folded and is put away safely to one side. Five minutes ago, it was worthless; now it is valuable, something to be treasured, kept, shown around and carefully conserved.
So it is with the myriad aspects of our national heritage. We decide what to value and what to discard. People differ; one person may see a bog as a useless wet wasteland to be drained and made 'productive'; another may see it as a pristine habitat rich in mosses, dragonflies, flowers, wild birds and other wildlife, something to be cherished and conserved.
National Heritage Week is coordinated by The Heritage Council and offers over two thousand events, very many of them free of charge. For a full listing of events see www.heritageweek.ie/. Do make a point of getting out on the Nature Trail to celebrate, enjoy and become more aware of our wonderful natural heritage.