Walled Towns

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      May be of interest…

      Towns plan wall-to-wall action for Heritage Week

      Ireland’s walled cities and towns are coming together to celebrate their unique history, writes Frank McDonald, Environment Editor

      Who would have guessed that the Irish Walled Towns Network has no fewer than 19 members? Of course, Derry is known for its impressively intact set of walls, but many of the others have fortified gates, towers and other bits and pieces that testify to more troubled times.

      As part of National Heritage Week 2006, the Ireland’s walled towns (North and South) will celebrate their unique history and heritage with “a day-full of fun-packed events for all the family”, according to the statutory Heritage Council, which helped to set up the network in April 2005.

      The main celebrations will take place in Athenry, Co Galway, on Sunday, August 27th. There will also be a walled town conference in Kilmallock, Co Limerick, on the previous Thursday and Friday, while another conference on Dublin City Walls and Defences is scheduled for September 1st.

      As the Heritage Council says, walled towns and cities in Ireland are “an important, yet currently neglected, national heritage asset”. So the aim of the Irish Walled Towns Network (IWTN) is to co-ordinate the efforts of local authorities involved in their management, conservation and enhancement.

      The IWTN is formally linked to the International Walled Towns Friendship Circle, which promotes the sustainable development of walled towns, walled cities and fortified historic towns. It includes such notable examples as Carcassonne (France), Chester (England) and Dubrovnik (Croatia).

      “Improved networks and links will ensure that quality management and effective conservation plans and systems are designed and implemented to protect and conserve the historic walled towns for the enjoyment and appreciation of current and future generations in Ireland and further afield,” says the council.

      The Heritage Council is committed to the preparation of conservation plans for all of Ireland’s historic walled towns, with the focus on improving visitor experience and the surroundings.

      So far, it has provided funding for plans to conserve what remains of Dublin’s city walls as well as Athlone’s and Kilkenny’s.

      The Dublin plan, drafted by the Integrated Conservation Group led by archaeological consultant Margaret Gowen, arose from a number of concerns about the above-ground and below-ground remains of the city wall, “one of the most important, but poorly preserved and presented, historic civic monuments”.

      The Dublin City Walls and Defences Conservation Plan has provided the city council and other interested parties with information and impetus to “move forward to preserve what remains of the city’s most important monument, and also to present it to the citizens of Dublin in a more coherent and accessible way”.

      The IWTN has also drawn up a three-year action plan, and one of its aims is to encourage the Department of the Environment to formulate national guidelines for the management, conservation and enhancement of walled towns. In the meantime, it has set up a website, http://www.heritagecouncil.ie/walled_towns.

      On September 4th last, in the first all-island event to promote public awareness of the cause, flags were flown and bells tolled at noon in most of the 19 member towns. There were also walled town walks, organised in conjunction with local museums and historical societies, to coincide with Heritage Week.

      Co-ordinated by Alison Harvey, the Heritage Council’s planning and development officer, this year’s more extensive range of activities are intended as a precursor to an annual “Walled Towns Festival”.

      It is also planned to devise visitor signage and set up a photo gallery and digital image bank. Presumably this will include a telling shot of the 12th-century walls of Trim Castle with the new four-storey hotel directly opposite, which was built in the face of strong criticisms from Dúchas, the former State Heritage Service, abolished by Martin Cullen; it was he, as minister for the environment, who gave his imprimatur to the hotel.

      The Heritage Council remained mute on the Trim case, but it did make a submission on a controversial mixed-use development of housing, offices, retail and parking planned for a site within the walls of Athenry, Co Galway.

      Having twice deferred its decision on appeals, An Bord Pleanála is due to rule on the scheme today.

      In other sensitive places, such as Kilkenny and Waterford, the setting of medieval walls has been severely compromised by inappropriately-scaled development, such as multi-storey car parks or new housing schemes built too close for comfort.

      Once-open views of ancient walls are lost, as the urge to make money triumphs over heritage.

      With so many other towns in Ireland under pressure from development – including those with surviving medieval walls – the Heritage Council’s conservation initiative could not come at a more opportune time.

      • Further information on the walled towns programme may be obtained by e-mail from Alison@heritagecouncil.com

      • For details of the Heritage Week programme, see http://www.heritageweek.ie

      © The Irish Times

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