A delegation from Carrickfergus recently visited Kilkenny and Waterford – two areas also steeped in history as medieval settlements.
Representatives from the Carrickfergus Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) visited Kilkenny and Waterford to learn more about ongoing work there and how they are maximising their heritage offerings to boost their economies.
The THI is a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) regeneration programme for towns with conservation areas that aims to preserve and enhance buildings through targeted grant assistance, raise local awareness of built heritage and skills, and generally stimulate and support wider economic regeneration.
Councillor Billy Ashe, who is chair of the THI Board, said: “Representatives from the THI and Council’s museums service were shown first-hand how Kilkenny and Waterford have successfully capitalised on their heritage to promote tourism and stimulate wider economic regeneration.
“The Carrickfergus THI scheme, managed by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, is currently welcoming first round of grant applications from the owners of eligible buildings for refurbishment works.
“Similarly, our new THI education Officer Laura Patrick, who recently took up post, is currently putting in place an education programme focusing on the built heritage of Carrickfergus and will work with local schools and the wider community.”
Cllr Ashe added that he found the visit facilitated by the Heritage Council through the Irish Walled Town Network to be particularly worthwhile.
He noted that the Local Authorities in both Kilkenny and Waterford were aware of the value of their significant heritage assets and over recent years have invested heavily in their arts and heritage offer and branding.
Cllr Ashe said: “For example, the ‘medieval mile’ branding and investment that includes a new €7million museum facility in a former church. The medieval mile which links Kilkenny Castle with nearly 400,000 visitors a year to the impressive Saint Canice’s Church of Ireland Cathedral through the city centre has reinforced the overall heritage offer.
The delegation was similarly impressed with the recent developments in Waterford. In particular, the Viking Triangle theme investment that was helping turn around the economy the historic coastal city.
Deputy Mayor and Carrickfergus THI Project Board member Cllr Cheryl Johnston found the study visit of benefit and was appreciative of both the lessons learned and warm welcome the party had received from their hosts.
She added: “There are few places in Northern Ireland with as much built heritage as Carrickfergus and the THI along with a range of other measures can undoubtedly help unlock the town’s potential.
“For example, in Kilkenny we witnessed several complimentary areas of activity ranging from festivals and events to a popular farmers’ market, that have helped place it as a top tourist heritage destinations in the Republic of Ireland.”