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Latest Laois Event: Light shone on Portlaoise’s Old St Peter’s Church & Graveyard
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Latest Laois Event: Light shone on Portlaoise’s Old St Peter’s Church & Graveyard

Laois project highlighted in new booklet celebrating 25 years of Heritage Officer work

A special Heritage Council publication featuring stories from heritage officers in every county is being launched today to mark 25 years since the Heritage Officer Network was founded. The booklet, ‘Opening the door to Ireland’s heritage’ details one key heritage project from each local authority from the last three years which collectively, highlight the enormous contribution the Network has made to the preservation of our heritage over the last quarter of a century. 

The booklet features the story of the rejuvenation of Old St Peter’s Church and Graveyard in Portlaoise, one of the oldest surviving sites in the town, dating from the 16th century. The church was demolished in or around 1837, leaving just the square tower still seen today. The graveyard was used until the 20th century but, over the years, the entire site had sadly become derelict. As a result, Old St. Peter’s had been closed to the public for many years.

The entrance to the graveyard before it was restored.

Following an enormous amount of work involving numerous phases and complications, the site was formally reopened in June 2023. The project is award-winning, receiving the Heritage Council Adopt a Monument Mentor’s Award in 2022. It was awarded to the Portlaoise Tidy Towns Committee in recognition of its remarkable achievement in conserving the site.

In a partnership between the Heritage Council and local authorities, the first heritage officers were appointed in 1999 in Kerry, Sligo and Galway with the aim of raising awareness of heritage issues within the local authority and among local communities. Since then, the heritage officer network has become synonymous with the protection and promotion of Ireland’s heritage and for the first time in 2021, every local authority in the country had appointed somebody to the role.  

While highlighting the important work they do, the stories in the publication also offer a stark insight into what may have been lost were it not for the heritage officers. Mangan’s Clock in the heart of Cork city may have fallen into disrepair. The most historic buildings in Ballyshannon or Listowel may have been left derelict and allowed to crumble. The natural beach and dune habitats along the coast of Wicklow may have become irrevocably degraded and the craftsmanship of dry-stone walling on Inis Oirr may have receded.

Laois Heritage Officer Thomas Carolan (centre) at the launch of the booklet in the Newpark Hotel in Kilkenny with CEO of the Heritage Council Virginia Teehan (left), Minister for Nature, Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan TD (second from left), CEO of Laois County Council John Mulholland (second from right) and Chairperson of the Heritage Council Martina Moloney (right)

The publication can be read in full on the Heritage Council website here:

More information about the Heritage Officer Network is available here:

Speaking on the launch of the booklet, Heritage Officer for Laois County Council Thomas Carolan said:

It is deeply satisfying to see documented in this publication the influence of the Heritage Officer Network in shaping our approach to heritage conservation and protection. Although we work as individuals at local authority level, what is clear from these pages is that the real strength of the Network is in the collective. These stories cover only a snapshot of recently completed projects from current heritage officers, so when we factor in the hundreds of past projects completed since 1999, it brings into the focus the enormous impact that the Local Authority Heritage Officer Programme has had.

Thomasina Connell, Cathaoirleach of Laois County Council, cutting the ribbon with guests to officially re-open St. Peter’s in June 2023. Photo: Michael Scully

Chairperson of the Heritage Council Martina Moloney added:

I have had the pleasure of working extensively with our Heritage Officers over many years and am constantly amazed by the sheer variety of their work which is excellently captured in this beautiful publication. Not only do they provide advice, guidance, and information on all aspects of heritage, but they also secure funding, undertake research, collect data, and develop and lead a multitude of highly impactful and engaging projects. Raising awareness locally, Heritage Officers inspire communities to value and take ownership of their important local heritage in all its forms. What their work achieves, ultimately, is that it opens the door to our heritage for people across Ireland and further afield, so that it can be enjoyed and appreciated by everyone.”

John Mulholland, Chair of the CCMA Rural Development, Community, Culture and Heritage (RCCH) Committee and CEO of Laois County Council also attended the launch, and said:

Old St. Peter’s after conservation works.

What has always stood out to me about the Heritage Officer Network is the range and number of individuals, groups and funders involved in the projects they undertake. It is very difficult to keep such a diverse range of interested parties singing off the same hymn sheet and getting the job done. This is the silent but tireless work of the Heritage Officers at play, to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude. On behalf of the CCMA, I commend them for their dedication.

Conservation works in progress in the graveyard.