During the past week the Heritage Council announced that Athy Heritage Centre-Museum had been awarded full accreditation under the Museum Standards Programme for Ireland. This means that our local Museum, first opened in 1983 in a vacant classroom in St. Mary’s Convent School, is classified as a Museum on the same level as the National Museum in Dublin. To have reached the necessary standard for such a classification is an enormous achievement, due in large measure to the ongoing work of Margaret Walsh, the Centre Manager, the Centre staff members and the volunteers who give freely of their time and experience.
The Heritage Centre-Museum has ranked up several noteworthy achievements in its short life and has also gained a remarkable international niche for itself in terms of Antarctic studies. The annual Shackleton Autumn School is now a well known part of the international Polar studies forum. Nowhere was that more clear than by the Centre’s recent acquisition of the Shackleton cabin despite competition from the famous Fram Museum in Norway.
The future development of the Centre-Museum which will be facilitated by the transfer of the town’s library to the former Dominican Church affords a huge opportunity to maximise its tourist potential. The development of tourism in the South Kildare area may seem to many as an aspiration which holds out little hope of success. This however is an attitude which is perhaps fashioned from decades of unimaginative acceptance of a market town mentality and a rigid adherence to an economic model of another era. We need to look at the regeneration of the town of Athy with an open mind, realising that both local natural and manmade infrastructure afford an opportunity to develop and recharge the town’s economy.
We need industry as well as we need a vibrant commercial sector. To that mix we should also add the undoubted benefits of a thriving tourism sector. The proposed Shackleton Museum will in time no doubt prove to be an important tourist attraction and its success will hopefully encourage us to market better the wonderful facilities we have in this area.
When I look to the future of tourism in Athy and the region my thoughts turn to the iconic building on the bridge of Athy – White’s Castle. This is a building which must form part of any tourism development plan for the town. It is such an important building and one which could potentially prove to be a huge attraction for visitors to Athy if it were adapted to tell the medieval story and perhaps the story of the Fitzgeralds, some of whose family names are remembered in the principal street names of Athy.
Visitors to Athy are always extremely complimentary of the town’s buildings, the town’s central squares, the River Barrow and the Grand Canal. Living as I have for most of my life in Athy I like so many others in the town was oblivious of these attractive qualities until they were highlighted in the comments of visitors over the years.
The success of the Heritage Centre-Museum is an indicator of the huge potential for tourism development in this part of the county and hopefully in the not too distant future we can look to the Museum and Whites Castle as twin attractions spearheading the drive for tourists in this area.
The Shackleton Challenge, an exercise in leadership development initiated and adapted by Athy Heritage Centre-Museum for secondary school students concluded this week with a final assessment of twelve projects devised and managed by students of Athy’s Ardscoil na Tríonóide. The assessors for the project were our three local T.D.’s, together with local industrialists who found that all of the projects involving teams of four or five students provided an excellent opportunity for team building and the promotion of leadership skills. The project teams were monitored throughout the several weeks of the projects by experienced adults from the local community. It is intended to extend the Shackleton Challenge to other secondary schools over the coming years.
During the week I attended an event in Ardscoil na Tríonóide organised by transition year students to mark the centenary of the Easter Rebellion. It was quite a good show but two students stood out for their outstanding contributions which deserve particular mention. Joe Byrne played the uileann pipes and the bag pies brilliantly and made an enormous impact on the audience. His is a musical talent which has already been recognised and will undoubtedly lead to national and international success in the not too distant future.
The Master of Ceremonies for the evening was another student whose poise and superb speaking voice marked him out as a future radio star if he should wish to embark on such a career. Adam Bowden had a straightforward role to play in the event but he performed with aplomb and with such ease that he stood out, as did his fellow student Joe Byrne. Congratulations to both and to all the transition year students and their teachers who were involved in the show.