Drawing Perfect Circles in the Sands of Time

Clare Champion, Friday, January 27, 2006

Austin Hobbs looks at the history, and the future of the Clare Heritage Circle

They’re going around in circles but they’re certainly not lost. They’re the partners in the Clare Heritage Circle, which was established three years ago with the intention of co-ordinating the efforts of individual heritage operators in County Clare. Formed under the County Clare Heritage Plan 2003-2007, the CHC is an initiative of the Clare Heritage Officer, Congella Mc Guire and Clare Museum. A not for profit, voluntary group, it comprises nine heritage centres that are geographically and thematically representative of heritage in the county.

Forming the circle are Clare Heritage Centre, Corofin; Lahinch Seaworld, Shannon Dolphins, Kilrush; Vandeleur Walled Gardens, Kilrush; East Clare Heritage, Tuamgraney; Clare Museum, Ennis; The Burren Centre, Kilfenora; Dysart O’Dea Castle and more recently, the Cliffs of Moher Centre. These community-based heritage centres have come together to network and exchange their heritage assets. They pool resources and support each other to promote their centres, provide specialist training, market research, care of collections and raise standards in visitor service.

In 2004 the Clare Heritage Circle produced and distributed a full colour booklet, which finished in the top 50 from more than 7,500 entries in an international best tourism brochure competition. It has provoked a hugely positive response from both tourist and tour operators and its usability and comprehensiveness has ensured awareness of heritage attractions in the county. As part of the 2006 programme, the CHC will be updating the booklet to include the Cliffs of Moher. A discount scheme will be included together with other information relating to the circle. There will also be a considerably greater emphasis on the Irish language, reflecting the group’s determination to support its continued revival.

The ’06 programme was formally launched recently by Dr Hugh Maguire of the National Heritage Council who underlined the importance of heritage groups, and even individuals working in isolation, supporting each other and sharing information. He said they all had common interests and problems and could help each other in coming up with fresh ideas. He said the Heritage Council supported such groups through small scale funding and grants, which they could use to maximum benefit. Dr Maguire explained that the Heritage Council is not directly involved in projects in Clare but channels support through the Clare Heritage Forum with Congella Mc Gurie and John Rattigan at the Clare Museum. They organise advisory meetings and heritage groups that can tap into their expertise on a range of issues.

At a recent meeting of the CHC it was decided that a heritage seminar should be organised this year. It would address heritage concerns in the county and serve as an effective method of generating interest and providing access to the heritage of Clare. The CHC feels that running a seminar with heritage as a focus would assist in Clare County Council’s tourism strategy of establishing a common brand for the promotion of the county as part of its “forward planning units’ development policy” by developing on the co-ordinated ethos of the group. Speakers from universities, the National Heritage Council, the National Museum and Conradh na Gaeilge will explore themes such as: Heritage today, Heritage in the tourism industry, How do we protect our heritage?, and Irish language / Irish heritage.

The CHC will continue to rotate exhibitions throughout the heritage centres in the group. The exhibitions reflect the collections of the various members and allow the diversity of heritage within the group to be physically displayed throughout the county. The group will develop an education/awareness/activity project, which would be managed by the CHC committee. The aim is to establish and implement sustainable heritage initiatives which will see the formation of a network between existing groups in the schools and community sectors, such as the ICA, elderly/retired, asylum seekers, umemployed and GAA and youth groups.

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