by ehistoryadmin on April 17, 2014

Banish the back-to-school blues with Heritage Week 2013

Liam Kenny

There’s a sort of “back-to-school” feel in the air as the languid days of late summer ever so gradually yield to the mellow days of early autumn. And all about the countryside people are saying “the evenings are bet”.

However early autumn brings its own treasures and one of them is Heritage Week (17th to 25th August) which has become a national fixture on the late August calendar for the last two decades.

It’s an opportunity for all to take a look at the gems of natural and built heritage which are to be found everywhere but often get overlooked in the busyness of the modern day.  The word heritage covers a wide range of resources – some of them historic and a legacy of the lives of previous generations, others very much alive with the sights and sounds of nature at its juiciest.

Heritage Week brings all of these together in a series of events, exhibitions, walks and talks centred in public and private heritage locations. Many of the events are free and those based in sites in public ownership provide a democratic level of access to heritage for anybody even slightly interested in the concept.

Kildare is well represented in this year’s Heritage Week programme. Full details of the events and activities including timings and directions can be found in the substantial Heritage Week guide book which is available in libraries and national monuments sites. Even better, the website gives up to date information on the events available throughout the county.

To give a flavour of what’s on offer the following is just a selection from the Kildare programme for Heritage Week 2013.

One of the stand-out events is a visit by organised by the County Kildare Archaeological Society to the royal site of “Dun Ailinne”, the hilltop south of Kilcullen, and overlooking the Curragh plain, which is second only to Tara in the legends of the old royal chieftains of Ireland. There is more than just legend associated with Dun Ailinne as professional archaeological assessment has discovered impressive signs of early settlement on the hilltop which commands a wide view over the plains of Kildare.

Speaking about hilltops there is also access during Heritage Week to Kildare’s most recognisable landscape feature – the Hill of Allen which also has an equally strong place in Irish myth and legend. The product of an ancient volcano which punched its way through the limestone rock that underlies Kildare’s glacial soils, the Hill of Allen has lost some of its emblematic impact with quarrying and forestry impinging on its profile. However the tower at its summit built by the landlord Aylmer to entertain the Prince of Wales on his visits to the Curragh remains a compelling reason to take the forested path from the Milltown road.

If hills represent the higher points of our local geography then bogs represent the lowest lying terrain. A newcomer to this year’s heritage programme is a series of walks and talks on the bogs at Moods (near Robertstown), Clongorey, Roseberry and Milltown organised by the Kildare Turfcutters’ Association. Participants will see displays of traditional turf cutting and footing, as well as following nature trails and spotting butterflies. Let’s hope there will always be enough bogs for the butterflies.

There are not many peatlands in the suburban plains of north-east Kildare but that part of the county has an embarrassment of riches for heritage week.

Much activity centres on the state-owned Castletown House, regarded by many as the finest mansion in Ireland and one which would leave television’s“Downton Abbey” in the shade in terms of its architectural splendour and interior ornamentation.

It’s been a busy year at Castletown which for the first six months hosted a number of functions arising from Ireland’s EU presidency. It will be just as lively during heritage week with a range of events from guided visits to music recitals, all free and open to the public. Perhaps the most exciting events will be the daily “Children’s Living History Tours” which will introduce younger folk to life “downstairs” as well as “upstairs” in the great country house. A realistic experience of life downstairs will include hands-on use of “washboards, copper dollies and the mangle or wringer.” Certainly no space-age washing machines with computer controlled spin cycles in that era!

The week will also open up access to a range of other fine houses – much smaller in scale than Castletown but each with its own stories of backstairs goings-on.  Among those opening their doors are Kildrought House and Celbridge Lodge, Moyglare Glebe (north of Maynooth), LarchillGardens near Kilcock, and the much-storied LeixlipCastle. Thinking about castles there will be free access throughout the week to MaynoothCastle which this year is marking the 500th anniversary of Gearóid Mór Fitzgerald, the father figure of the Fitzgerald clan which left a huge mark on Kildare from Castletown in the north to Kilkea in the south. Indeed the Fitzgerald coat-of-arms forms the basis of the modern Kildare County Council emblem seen widely throughout the county. 

Another historical figure of Kildare origin but one with a modern relevance is Richard Griffith of Millicent House, originator of Ireland’s first property tax who will be the subject of a talk in Clane library.

And finally for a whiff of sulphur head for the exploration of the copper mines at Avoca led by Naas resident and Heritage Week veteran Nick Coy, an expert in things subterranean.

To find all the details including times, dates and directions on the full range of Heritage Week events in Kildare and neighbouring counties take a look at the website and banish back-to-school routines for another week.  Leinster Leader, 13 August 2013, Looking Back, Series no: 344.

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