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Irish Historic, Cultural and Heritage Environment

Obama Is Not First Black American With Irish Roots - Pete Souza

Balancing history, heritage, culture, natural environment contributes to the Irish economy and national pride, but also informs today’s economic policies.

In September 2011, The School of Histories and Humanities at Trinity College Dublin began a new Masters programme: Public History and Cultural Heritage. It should give a ‘thorough grounding in public history, providing students with unique preparation for the management of cultural heritage’.

This reflects the increasing importance of history, heritage and culture to the Irish economy as a whole. The course considers cultural memory (its construction, reception and loss), public status of history in modern society and examines political issues surrounding public commemoration and ‘sites of memory’ (museums, archives, galleries and the media) as public perceptions of the past are shaped.

It’ll also study conservation, presentation and communication of physical past heritage, especially where interpretation and meaning ‘are contested’. To those opposed to such academic yet practical subjects, it will seem pointless. How can the past help the present and future in any meaningful economic way?

Historical Legacies

The Irish Environmental History Network is a collection of individuals from Irish and other institutions interested or engaged in related research. A research focus point, it reflects the importance of Irish environmental history. They acknowledge all research methodologies (scientific, archaeological, historic, literary) investigating how past mankind has ‘studied, perceived, managed and influenced the natural environment and been influenced by it’.

One paper was Where are the big fish? (August 2010), by Professor Poul Holm from his wider History of Marine Animal Populations project. He said while we can’t see beneath the oceans’ surface, we see environmental land change clearly. Using fishing logbooks, the facts that monster -sized cod were caught 150 years ago, added to what we know from today’s catches.

Environmental studies, economics and history combine to underpin employment, travel, development and social policies. There are two historic aspects which also have bear on contemporary policies and attitudes. The Irish diaspora and ‘the invasions of 800 years ago’.

Evidence for continuing influence of the first was the May 2011 meeting at the Irish Literary and Historical Society, San Francisco, entitled: The Irish Diaspora: Irish Visitors, Irish Emigres and Irish-Americans, by William Chace, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University.

Understanding how massive Irish migration and demographic realities shaped the USA, it asked why have so few Irish returned? Why more Irish women than men? Why many Irish writers chose to live outside Ireland? What is the fate of the Irish language? Exile doesn’t make people less Irish, and contribution to Irish culture is still high, but it must have an effect on those left behind by choice/circumstance.

The British invasion still colours folk memory. Scribd published part of Ireland: History, Culture and Environment, which said ‘eight hundred years has been the rallying cry of Irish nationalists’, as matching the period ‘dear old Britannia ruled the Irish roost’.

It said Ireland’s fractious relationship with its sister island across the Irish sea, ‘casts an overwhelming shadow on Ireland’s history of conquest and domination’. History leaves its mark on landscapes, buildings, cultural tradition and memory. It has enriched the Irish-Celtic soil of creativity.

Cultural Dimension

Culture/history and business are inseparable. Trinity Business Alumni organise dinners on economics. May 2011’s was The Business Value of Irish Culture. There’s a market catering for visitors in search of their ancestral roots. Irish people dispersed all over the world, interbreeding with other races, other cultures.

US President Obama was hardly the first American to look up celtic relatives and connect with Irish forebears (May 2011). According to Irish ancestry company Eneclann, black Americans now constitute 20% of their American clientele.

The economic value of Irish culture is hard to quantify. It encompasses arts, music and dancing, poetry ancient and modern, contributions from great Irish writers, playwrights and thinkers, Guinness, historical famines, the Troubles… it’s marketing all that there was into all that there is.

Tourism’s Contribution

Failte Ireland provides strategic and practical support to develop and sustain Ireland as a quality, competitive tourist destination. With the tourist industry they offer business support, enterprise development, training/education, research and marketing to reflect the economic importance of tourism.

In December 2010, they ran a food and drink campaign on the basis that everybody eats and drinks on holiday. Indeed, many actively seek ‘a food experience’. They reckoned two out of every five euros spent by tourists in Ireland was for food and drink. That amounted (2009) to around €2 billion, 60% of which came from overseas visitors.

Tourism Ireland 2009‘s campaign to grow tourism from abroad targeted almost 8 million visitors to the island of Ireland in a ‘massive global marketing drive’, with investment concentrated in Britain and Germany. Growth potential, revenue and jobs drive new tourism campaigns every year.

Chief Executive of Tourism Ireland, Niall Gibbons, said at the launch they’d be highlighting the uniqueness of a holiday on the island of Ireland, ‘the diversity of our culture and heritage and the friendliness of our people’. That would secure ‘stand out’ and differentiate themselves in a very crowded marketplace.

A Warning

While Eire, like elsewhere, struggles between asset exploitation and preservation, Frank McDonald, Environment Editor of the Irish Times warned Britain in The Daily Telegraph (Sept 2011), not to copy Ireland by relaxing planning laws to allow widespread countryside development (to ease housing shortages and stimulate building industry).

He said what Ireland did as a result of the ‘dotty vision of the countryside bright with cosy homesteads’, meant it’s now littered with them. The liberal policies codified in Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines (2005) had been ‘ruinous’.

McDonald said that one-offs were more than half the housing stock in Kerry alone, houses ‘strewn around the landscape of a county heavily dependent on tourism and the most scenic in Ireland’. People visit Ireland for quality of landscape and unspoilt scenery, not urban sprawl spread into countryside or nearly 3000 ghost estates of unfinished/unwanted houses when the housing bubble burst in 2008.

The four and a half million people of Ireland have to think carefully as they rebuild their economy after recession. Make the most of the natural, historic, cultural heritage, without killing it.

First published on Suite 101, 17 September 2011

Image: Obama Is Not First Black American With Irish Roots – Pete Souza

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