DHR’s Managing Director and Founder, Catherine Heaney, blogs about her childhood memories and the roots of her passion for culture and heritage, and how this week’s budget will continue to have a devastating impact on our infrastructure and history.
Memories of my primary school days aren’t sugar-coated. Spelling tests on Fridays, and living in fear of being called to stand against the wall with the ‘dunces’, is one memory that prevails. Learning ‘Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful’ as Gaeilge was another experience that stuck, though the words have since left me.
However, something positive did emerge from those heady days, and it has left an indelible imprint on me and my interests. Aged eleven, I received a scrapbook for my birthday. Shortly after, our teacher told us to prepare a history project.
I didn’t have to look too far. Across from my family home was an old church wall. It was never a proper church, but a high wall with a cross at its centre. In the days of British rule, it was where the local population went to hear mass when places of worship were being scorched to the ground. Later a church was built in the local village, but the main entrance was placed at its back so that the landlords would not have to look at people going into to mass.
The looming Killua Castle (pictured above) was another point of interest. It was built by Benjamin Chapman, a captain in Cromwell’s army who came to live in the area in 1667. His family became responsible for the surrounding 9,000 acres of prime farm land for centuries after.
The birth of Lawrence of Arabia was very much associated with the castle, but in somewhat disgraced circumstances, he was raised some miles away in a stately mansion.
An ice house, a monument to Sir Walter Raleigh and a smattering of fairy forts also become the subject of my eleven-year old curiosity.
I became prolific. I visited the homes of sage old people: the two protestant sisters at the end of the local village; my near neighbour Johnny Gavin; my grandmother; nuns at the former home of Lawrence of Arabia.
My scrapbook became a tome. I sketched in pictures of all of the buildings and landmarks that I had examined. I stuck in photos that people gifted me and I posted in pages, upon pages, of the facts and anecdotes I had acquired.
Many decades later, I now drag my six-year old son around to all of these landmarks. The icehouse near the castle has almost collapsed. It won’t be there for the next generation. The wall with the cross is overgrown with ivy. My father did a good job at maintaining this for years, but these days he’s seldom out with his slash hook.
The decline of our culture and heritage budgets is having a devastating impact on our infrastructure. This week, another breathing device was effectively taken from the sector.
Our history is crumbling, and no amount of marketing or tourism initiatives can sustain it. It needs investment.
For one, I would gladly give the €5 monthly increase in child benefit back to the State so that the next generation can enjoy and become enriched by our deep cultural heritage and history.