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Next generation must play central role in shaping future of Ireland Historic Towns

A project looking at reenergising underused space within the city walls of Derry and a proposal to build an agricultural college in the heart of Trim town were awarded the top prizes in the inaugural Historic Towns Research Awards at a ceremony in Dublin’s Royal Irish Academy on Wednesday 26th November 2014 . Launched by the Irish Walled Towns Network earlier this year, the Historic Towns Research Awards were designed to allow final year degree and taught master students the possibility of providing insight and solutions into the real problems being experienced by Ireland’s historic towns.

Many of Ireland’s historic towns have suffered significantly since the onset of the 2008 recession. As shop vacancy rates have increased, usage of the town centre as a place to live and play has decreased. However, even before the 2008 crash, policies and actions by many of those in both the private and public sectors was creating a situation where the commercial and social strength of town centres was slowly being eroded. This new award aimed to allow final year degree and taught master students the possibility of providing insight and solutions into the real problems being experienced by Ireland’s historic towns.

Speaking at the event Conor Newman, Heritage Council Chairman said, “at a time when we have lost so many of our talented and educated young people to economies overseas this important initiative aims to give them an interest and role in shaping the kind of Ireland they want to see in the future. Our rural towns have the potential to offer a fantastic quality of life for young people and for families, but it is also necessary that they are fit for purpose. Involving the next generation in that process is essential if we are to ensure our towns not only survive but provide a quality of life for talented young people not easily found elsewhere”.

Andrew Bryce from the Department of Architecture in Queens University won the award for the top Degree entry while Melanie O’Brien from the Department of Architecture in UCD won the award in the Masters category.

Andrew’s project, Negotiating the Walls: Derry / Londonderry City Archive, proposes the construction of a city archive which represents the bringing together and celebration of historic documents and records which currently exist in disparate collections throughout the city and further afield.

Melanie’s project, Rhythmic Occupancy: reconnection of Trim Co. Meath to its vitality, investigates placing an agricultural college and adult training facility, not on the periphery of a sensitive heritage town but stitched into the grain of its dormant centre.

The Historic Towns Research Award was awarded by the Irish Walled Towns Network to one final year degree student and one taught masters student whose dissertation or thesis skilfully explored issues into making Ireland’s historic towns better places to live, work or be in. The Award was open to 2013-2014 final year degree students and 2013-2014 taught masters students from universities and Institutes of Technologies located on the island of Ireland.