Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Co. Kildare Heritage Plan

Kildare County Council recently launched the first ever Heritage Plan for the county.  It’s a very welcome addition to the literature on the shortgrass county and much of the praise for the booklet must go to the Heritage Council of Ireland which initiated the project, as well as funding the appointment of a Heritage Officer for the county. 

“The aim of the County Kildare Heritage Plan is to identify, preserve and conserve the built, natural and cultural heritage of the county”.  So explains the introduction to the plan in which the County Manger in his forward to the publication refers to Kildare as a county rich in heritage “which makes it unique” and defines “its sense of place”.  Continuing he rightly states “some aspects of the heritage of Kildare are important in their own locality and some are of national or international importance.  Whatever their inherent importance, all aspects of heritage serve to enhance the quality of life for all who live or are associated with the County of Kildare.” 

The Heritage Plan is the outcome of almost two years deliberations by the County Heritage Forum which was established in 2003.  The group comprised six public representatives, four officials of Kildare County Council, six local development agencies, two government department representatives, three members of what are euphemistically referred to as social partners and three heritage group members.  The apparent imbalance in favour of non heritage groupings was addressed somewhat in the setting up of three working groups where those working in or otherwise associated with the natural, built or architectural heritage areas were consulted by the Heritage Forum which ultimately decided the Heritage Plan.

The Plan is a strategic policy document for the management and protection of the county’s heritage over the next five years, and will I understand, be implemented by the Heritage Forum with the support of the Heritage Council of Ireland and the various local authorities in the county.  The four principle objectives of the plan are :-

1.    The collection and dissemination of heritage information.
2.    The raising of public awareness, understanding and appreciation of the county’s heritage.
3.    The promotion of best practice in heritage conservation and management.
4.    Informing policy and providing advice to local authorities in the county.

Under the first objective a number of activities are recommended, some of which were of particular interest to me.  For example the Plan recognised the value of collecting oral history and the expansion of the county archive to include not only local authority records but also private business records and school records.  Developing oral history projects throughout the county could lead to the availability of extremely useful sources of material for local histories.  I understand the Heritage Officer in County Laois embarked on such a project last year and her initiative is one which could and should be usefully followed in all other counties.

One surprising omission from the list of potential donors of material for the county archive was local clubs and associations.  The very nature of these voluntary associations where officers are elected each year can and often does lead to the loss of club records and minute books.  Club records are very important documentary records of a community’s involvement in activities outside work and the home, and the pity is that they are seldom preserved and maintained for research purposes in later years.  Lodging minute books and club records with the county archive should, I suggest, be part of objective one of the Heritage Plan which relates to the collection of heritage information. 

I was particularly enthused by two courses of action suggested in the plan with regard to the objective of promoting best practice in heritage conservation and management.  The first concerned the development of an education programme for local authority staff and councillors on all aspects of Kildare’s built, natural and archaeological heritage.  Would it, I thought, be too much to hope that somehow, at some time in the future, we could all collectively raise our heads above the mundane public utility services normally associated with the County Council and devote some time and a little of the public purse to the neglected aspects of our often unappreciated heritage.

The other matter which caught my attention was the proposal to establish a placename committee for the county to re-examine existing policy on the naming of new developments and new roads.  This is badly needed, especially where there are so many new housing developments taking place, leading in some cases to excruciating place names which have no connection with the area or indeed with the country.

The County Heritage Plan is the first of its kind and as such offers a blueprint for action over the next five years.  As the National Heritage Plan stated “the protection of our heritage must begin at local level enabling everybody to become actively involved in preserving and enhancing that which belongs to us”.  Congratulations are due to Kildare County Council and everyone involved with the document which was launched last week.

During the week I had two callers looking for information, John Mee who now lives in Salthill in Galway tells me that he was a young bank official in the Provincial Bank in Duke Street between February 1950 and December 1951.  He was looking for a photograph of the Provincial Bank and of Duke Street as it was during the 1950’s.  Can anyone help?  I can arrange to copy any original photograph and send it on to John who tells me that he was a member of the Social Club Players and acted in “The White Headed Boy”.  I gather that the performance was put on in October 1951 and followed the performance of the same play the previous January with a different cast.  John lodged in Staffords of Duke Street and as the only lodger in that house he must have been quite pampered.  If you remember John Mee and can help with his request for a photograph I would like to hear from you.

The other caller had the unusual surname of Gaffy.  From Australia, Michael Gaffy was looking for information on his Ballintubbert ancestors.  The McLoughlin family were headed by Michael who died in 1862 and his wife Sarah, formerly Whelan, who died in the 1870’s.  They had a family of two daughters and possibly two sons.  The daughters, Margaret and Judith, emigrated to Australia in or about 1862 and Michael Gaffy is a descendant of Margaret McLoughlin.  The sons [believed to be two whose names are unknown] remained in Ballintubbert.  Can anyone help to identify their families or if there are any descendants in the area or indeed elsewhere?

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