Heritage Services

County Heritage Services Content

All heritage is local, particularly natural heritage, and local communities are the ultimate custodians of that heritage. The survival of our heritage often depends on action at the local level.

“Historic streetscapes, not characterless retails parks, are the key to revitalising Ireland’s towns and villages

Heritage Council Conference Addresses Issues Facing Irish Towns

“Without their historic buildings and monuments Ireland’s towns and villages become anywhere places. It is historic streetscapes, Georgian terraces and medieval town walls, and not characterless retails parks, that make them interesting places to live and work in, and to visit”, the Chief Executive of the Heritage Council, Michael Starrett, said today.

Speaking at a conference in Kilkenny on “Realising the Hidden Potential of Irish Towns” today, he also said that local communities must be actively mobilised, and intimately involved, in developing plans to revitalise their towns and villages.

“Despite the national return to economic growth, unemployment in rural towns and villages remains disproportionately high. A lack of vision, and inadequate financial support, has led to a prolonged pattern of declining town centres and increasing regional gaps in quality of life. Utilising local people’s knowledge of their heritage, and fully involving them in solving their own problems, has the potential to deliver economic and social benefits, as well as ensuring these places maintain their unique and distinctive character”, Mr Starrett said.

Proposing the creation of a Rural Towns and Villages Network that would rejuvenate more of Ireland’s town and villages, he highlighted the need for bottom-up community involvement, and for additional financial resourcing. This network model is largely based on the very successful Irish Walled Towns Network (IWTN), another initiative of the Heritage Council in 2005, and which now includes 28 towns in both the Republic and Northern Ireland. “Our approach there, and for the proposed Rural Towns and Villages Network, is to work with local communities and to empower them through funding, training and guidance”, he added.

He said that a costed proposal has been placed before relevant government Ministers in the Departments of Environment; Arts and Heritage, and Agriculture, detailing how towns and villages up and down the country could be transformed, both for local residents and to boost tourism and other economic activity, and for very modest financial outlay.

The conference, which is attended by nearly 200 people from all parts of the country, will examine the issues facing Irish towns and explore a policy agenda to advocate for their future. It will consider  how many of our main streets are losing vitality and their historic urban characters through under-use or over-development. It will look at how the social and economic factors which drive towns need to be better understood in order to manage the process of change and maximize the towns’ value.

According to speaker and architect Orla Murphy, “Aided and abetted by poor planning since 1963, and a lack of coherent spatial thinking at national, regional and local level, we have facilitated, even promoted, the rejection of the rural town as a dynamic, useful and relevant way to live”.

Ms Murphy proposes that “the rural town as a viable alternative urban model to the city should not be overlooked. Towns can be a part of the solution to Dublin’s housing shortage, by offering an alternative. Indeed, Dublin needs the relief of rural towns as much as towns can benefit from the population that Dublin cannot service”. 

According to RGDATA Director General Tara Buckley, “The regeneration of our towns and villages will not be achieved merely by hanging baskets and new paintwork. It will require a national approach which recognises the need for targeted incentive schemes to direct investment, a national town centre management programme and adherance to strategic planning policies”.

Journalist Eamon Delaney will speak about public policy for Ireland’s towns. Gráinne Shaffrey, conservation architect and urban designer, will address the issue of getting towns inhabited. Orla Murphy, architect and author will address the predicament of small houses. Tara Buckley, RGDATA, will speak about retailing in small towns, and Colm Murray, Heritage Council Architecture Officer, will introduce the Heritage Council’s six proposals for the future of Irish towns

The conference coincides with the launch of the Heritage Council’s ‘Policy Proposals for Ireland’s Towns,’ document. The establishment of the Rural Towns and Villages Network is a key element of the package of measures proposed.

Further information: 

Paula Curtin, MKC Communications, 01 703 8612/ 087 4109910

Note to Editor:

Speakers at today’s conference include:

  • Anne Phelan, T.D., Minister of State at the Departments of Agriculture, Food and Marine and Transport, Tourism and Sport with Special Responsibility for Rural Economic Development and rural transport will speak about towns and regional economic recovery 
  • Conor Newman, Heritage Council Chairman, will address what is happening to towns in Ireland today
  • Prof Cathal O’Donoghue, Head of Teagasc’s Rural Economy and Development Programme, will speak about the CEDRA report and towns across Ireland
  • Mary Kerrigan, architect and community engagement animateur and SPAB, Derry will talk about her project addressing with community engagement with urban heritage
  • Eamon Delaney, journalist, will speak about public policy for Ireland’s towns
  • Gráinne Shaffrey, conservation architect and urban designer, will address the issue of getting people to live in town centres. 
  • Kevin Leydon, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at NUIG, will talk about the “liveability” of towns
  • Orla Murphy, architect and author will address the predicament of small houses
  • Tara Buckley, RGDATA, will speak about retailing in small towns
  • Pat Ruane, Architectural Conservation Officer, Cork City Council, will speak about Architectural Conservation Areas as a facilitator of development
  • Colm Murray, Heritage Council Architecture Officer, will introduce the Heritage Council’s six proposals for the future of Irish towns