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Ireland’s ‘Heritage Heroes’ celebrated at National Heritage Awards 2021


More than 1,055 heritage projects, developed by more than 863 groups, families and communities were considered for an award

The efforts of individuals, families and community groups across Ireland in ensuring the preservation, protection and promotion of Ireland’s built, natural and cultural heritage have been recognised at the National Heritage Awards, hosted by the Heritage Council.

Winners were announced at a virtual ceremony presented by RTÉ broadcaster, Anne Cassin and attended by Minister of State for the Minister for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD.

The National Heritage Week Awards highlight Ireland’s ‘heritage heroes’, and showcase the most engaging and innovative projects from National Heritage Week 2021. To take account of restrictions on gatherings due to COVID-19, this year National Heritage Week comprised a mix of online, in-person and community projects. In total, more than 1,050 projects and events took place around the country, as communities and individuals answered the Heritage Council’s call to ‘open the door to heritage’ and celebrate local heritage for the first time. Each heritage activity shared on the National Heritage Week website was considered for a National Heritage Award.

The National Heritage Awards were expanded this year to include a Wild Child Award, sponsored by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. This is awarded to the project that most successfully encouraged children and families to explore the heritage in their locality.

Projects were assessed on the basis of their local reach and community engagement, approach to awareness-raising, use of resources to inform their work, and the level to which they involved different age groups.

Other categories comprised: The Heritage Hero Award; Heritage Newcomers; Heritage Sharing; Heritage for All Ages; and the Water Heritage Award. A special award was also presented to the most successful heritage project from each county. The Water Heritage Award 2021 is sponsored by the Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO) and is awarded to the project that best explored how a canal, river, lake or the sea shapes heritage in a locality.

Patrick Boner, Heritage Hero 2021 (Photo: Clive Wasson)
Patrick Boner, Heritage Hero 2021 (Photo: Clive Wasson)

The winners of the National Heritage Awards 2021 are:

  • The Heritage Hero Award: Patrick Boner from Burtonport, Co Donegal: Patrick Boner has been involved with local heritage projects in west Donegal for over 20 years and has been involved with many projects in Burtonport and the Rosses. He has been awarded the Heritage Hero Award for his contribution to the preservation, protection and promotion of the local heritage in the area. He is author of ‘The Story of The Cope’, an acclaimed social history of Templecrone Agricultural Co-operative Society and is currently writing ‘Her Story - Sally the Cope’, continuing his focus on the cooperative movement locally.He has researched and produced the Dungloe Heritage Trail, contributed articles to several local history publications, magazines and local newspapers and has played a proactive role in commissioning reports and conservation works on heritage sites/buildings in west Donegal including the Cooperage in Burtonport.Understanding the value of sharing heritage and reaching new generations, Patrick has embraced social media, promoting local projects online. He has also spoken to students in local schools and has organised field trips and boat tours to islands in the region, including Rutland.Through his involvement in heritage, he has acquired a personal collection of items, maps, photographs, postcards and documents, some of which he has now donated to the County Archives, County Museum, and Central Library to benefit future researchers, students and the whole community. He has made an outstanding and tireless contribution to the preservation, conservation, and promotion of heritage in west Donegal, has a passion for promoting the digitalisation of archives and has been involved in the organisation of many National Heritage Week events.

  • The Sharing Heritage Award: Cahir Women's History Group from Cahir, Co Tipperary:The Daughters of Dún Iascaigh historical walking tour celebrated the contribution women have made to Cahir over the centuries through the surprise, overnight installation of 24 temporary plaques throughout the town and the development of a new walking tour, available via an online map.

  • Heritage for All Ages: Ballyshannon Regeneration Group from Ballyshannon, Co Donegal: Ballyshannon Regeneration Group created their video ‘A Virtual Saunter Down Ballyshannon’s Historic Mall’ to showcase the buildings of historical, economic, social or cultural significance on The Mall, Ballyshannon. As part of the research, they invited older people to share stories and borrowed books, documents, pictures, photographs from a number of people within the community. Young people were asked to participate as well and recite poems and sing songs of significance to Ballyshannon’s heritage throughout the project video.

  • Heritage Newcomers: Colmcille 1500 Kells from Kells, Co Meath: The Colmcille 1500 Kells Illuminations were specially commissioned to mark the 1500 anniversary of the birth of St Colmcille. Illuminations medieval artwork were projected in outdoor spaces throughout Kells. The vibrant projected imagery showcased Kells’ connection to St Colmcille and the distinctive iconography, artwork and symbols first evident in the Cathach, a 6th century manuscript said to have been penned by St. Colmcille himself. The project was particularly successful at including non-heritage groups in its activities. During National Heritage Week 2021, the organisers offered self-guided and guided tour of Kells, exploring the illuminations.

    o Water Heritage (Award sponsored by the Local Authority Waters Programme - LAWPRO): Suircan Community Forum from Clonmel, Co Tipperary: Suircan Community Forum through their heritage project ‘Citizen scientists water sampling project on the River Suir’ recruited up to 30 volunteers to undertake training in water sampling with a view to taking samples at key points along the River Suir and its tributaries. The samples will be tested to establish water quality. The organiser believes the river is under-valued and its aim is to highlight water quality and its effect on river health.

    o Wild Child (Award sponsored by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth):
    Kerry Archaeological & Historical Society, Kerry County Museum and Kerry County Council from Co Kerry: All primary schools in Kerry were invited to explore local heritage and share their discoveries. School building were taken as the focal point and students researched the hidden history and heritage of their locality. Eleven schools participated despite COVID-19 restrictions and nine schools submitted their projects in May 2021. For National Heritage Week 2021, the organisers shared a short video showcasing the students’ work.

Commenting, Minister of State for the Minister for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD, said: “I am delighted to be able to attend the annual National Heritage Awards and celebrate the efforts of the awardees in ensuring the realisation of the promotion, preservation and conservation of our heritage. I am particularly encouraged by many of the awarded projects’ use of modern technologies to communicate and record our heritage at a local level. This makes their work, and our shared heritage, more accessible to new audiences.”

Referring to the increased funding allocation for the Heritage Council announced in last week’s budget Minister Noonan continued, “I was delighted to secure additional funding for heritage in the recent budget, including a significant increase for the Heritage Council, which will bring their total allocation from my Department, for 2022, to over €12m. This will put it in a position to increase its grants schemes and further support those communities and organisations who care for our heritage.”

Minister at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman TD said: “The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is delighted to support the Wild Child Award at the National Heritage Awards. Under the implementation of First 5: A Whole of Government Strategy, our aim is to improve the lives of babies, young children and their families. National Heritage Week, particularly Wild Child Day, is a wonderful opportunity for children and their families to ‘open the door to heritage’, explore the heritage in their locality and develop a greater sense of place and connection with community as a result.”

Chief Executive of the Heritage Council, Virginia Teehan added: “This year, as part of National Heritage Week, the Heritage Council invited heritage enthusiasts to ‘open the door to heritage’ and think about how as many people as possible could be included in their activities. The result has been a huge volume and variety of heritage activities being organised. This success reflects the dedication of individuals and communities, many of whom are being recognised today at the National Heritage Awards, to capture, celebrate and share Ireland’s rich and varied heritage. ‘Heritage Hero’, Patrick Boner, is one such individual whose work in west Donegal has led to a greater understanding and appreciation of the heritage in that particular area.“On behalf of everyone at the Heritage Council, I offer sincere congratulations to not only the winning and shortlisted groups and organisations, but to all those whose who were involved in the organisation of National Heritage Week activities and considered for an award.”

Communications and Marketing lead for the Local Authority Waters Programme Alan Walsh said: “As a partner of National Heritage Week, LAWPRO is delighted to sponsor the Water Heritage Award at this year’s National Heritage Awards. The sea and our great rivers, lakes, and wetlands have shaped Ireland’s heritage. This Water Heritage Award recognises the work of local communities and groups who, year on year, organise and deliver projects and events during National Heritage Week that highlight the importance of water for recreational, cultural, environmental, and economic benefits.”