The Heritage of Ireland, Neil Buttimer, Colin Rynne and Helen Guerin (eds.). (Collins Press, £31.25) ISBN 1898256152

Published in Book Reviews, Issue 2 (Summer 2001), Reviews, Volume 9

The cries of despair and outrage from the tourist sector following the current closure of Newgrange, Cashel, etc. because of foot-and-mouth disease restrictions clearly shows the extent to which the industry has become dependent on these cultural amenities. Heritage presentation is big business and has become the flagship of the tourist industry. Ireland has built up an expertise in this area in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and to judge from this timely review there is huge scope to expand.
This publication provides an encyclopaedic coverage of Irish heritage and its practitioners. It brings together for the first time such disparate aspects of heritage as Gaelic games, theatre, archaeology and dance, giving for once a voice to many hidden fields of Irish heritage. Divided into three parts, this book defines what our heritage is, how it is being maintained, by whom it is managed. The contributors were well chosen from both North and South. In Part I they have done an excellent job in providing a concise, up to date overview of their subject whilst keeping within the guidelines demanded by the editors to create a uniform style. Despite the constraints imposed on the contributors many of them have taken this opportunity for critical evaluation, others for soul searching (Hurley) and others for personal vendetta (Lee). For those representatives from the universities I would have expected a more critical appraisal of the way in which their disciplines were being used or abused in the heritage tourism sector.
Given the high standard of papers it is perhaps unfair to pinpoint any specific one. I particularly enjoyed the update on marine archaeology, which is currently undergoing a resurgence (Breen), and was interested to hear about the Centre for Civil Engineering Heritage and the National Engineering Database (Cox) which I intend to visit soon. I was surprised by many facts included in these papers including that which stated that in Ireland storytelling is traditionally a male preserve (Ó Crualaoich). I felt that the only thing lacking in this part of the book was some comment on our geological geomorphologic heritage and how it is being catered for.
Part II is concerned with the maintenance and presentation of Irish heritage. There are contributions by members of museums, libraries, Duchas and independent consultants. The great strength of this section lies in the ‘hands on’ experience of the contributors particularly those veterans from the national institutions who are in the front line when it comes to the public. What is becoming clear is that there is a greater sensitivity to the needs of the wider public both at home and abroad and that we in Ireland are not the sole custodians of this heritage. The most encouraging news is that we are moving out of the interpretative centre age (Harrison) and that significant developments in information technology mean that we can communicate with the ‘virtual tourist’ (Craig and Ireland).
Part III presents a review of the administrative structures behind our heritage. Some of the papers in this section are only tenuously related to the subject and warranted considerable reduction in size. Less is more. In contrast papers such as that on the legislative and institutional framework for Irish archaeology is useful, and concise (Sweetman). The editors are to be commended for encapsulating such a diverse range of interrelated subjects into what amounts to a reference library in one volume (so we’ll allow them their Cork bias). Heritage management as an academic discipline has come of age. The heritage management student armed with this authoritative textbook is fully equipped to enter the exciting world of heritage tourism.

Geraldine Stout

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