Lack of heritage officer a concern for local historian

The lack of a heritage officer in Westmeath is a regrettable loss to the county, says a prominent local historian.

With Heritage Week finishing last week, Cllr Ruth Illingworth said it’s not good enough that there is no full-time heritage officer since the last contract lapsed in 2007.

Westmeath is one of just four counties without a full-time heritage officer and unable to access the six days of training provided by the Heritage Council.

Westmeath is also unable to access certain Heritage Council funding because it has no full-time heritage officer.

Cllr Illingworth admitted that the Westmeath Heritage Week programme was considerably smaller than many other counties, but praised all the voluntary organisations involved.

She said it’s a pity to see Westmeath lose out when nearby counties like Laois and Offaly fare much better.

Of more than 1,700 Heritage Week events scheduled nationwide, Westmeath had just 29.

These are run by librarians, Athlone Castle, Belvedere House, and Athlone Architectural and Heritage Group, as well as commercial entities and individuals.

“There is no tourism without heritage,” said Cllr Illingworth, who praised the work of Westmeath Heritage Forum but said they need more support.

Cllr Declan Leonard, who is chair of the Heritage Forum says Bernie Solan, the council’s conservation architect also looks after heritage, but he admitted that the county loses out, and he would like to see a dedicated full-time position.

“Because we don’t have a full-time heritage officer the county isn’t recognized for funding,” he said, adding that the Heritage Council should be more flexible about this.


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