Major plans to place the historic village of Kenagh at the centre of tourism in the midlands are in the pipeline after an innovative plan to unearth both the historical significance and wetlands potential of the area was put forward by the Office of Public Works (OPW), in conjunction with Wetlands Heritage Ireland (WHI), Born na Móna, Longford Community Resources Ltd (LCRL), the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Longford Historical Society and Longford local authorities.
The development of a replica iron village, creation of an international archaeological field school in conjunction with NUIG and expansion of walkways and cycle paths into the heart of Corlea Bog, where lies a trackway that dates back 1,000 years, are just a number of the plans that are in place in conjunction with the local community in the picturesque south Longford village.
All will be unveiled at the inaugural memorial conference dedicated to the memory of Professor Barry Raftery at Ballymahon Library on June 9 next, which will be officially launched by Minister of State for Public Service Reform and the Office of Public Works, Brian Hayes TD. Professor Raftery unearthed the area’s wetlands potential way back in the 1980s when he engaged in an excavation at Corlea Bog.
The conference has been organised by WHI in partnership with County Longford Heritage Office and guest speakers on the day include Dr Aidan O’Sullivan, UCD School of Archaeology; Conor McDermott, UCD School of Archaeology; Professor John Feehan, Gerry Ryan, Bord na Móna Director of Land and Property and Group Secretary; Harry Hall, WHI; Fred Carney, Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre; Alf Monaghan, Business Consultant and local historian Paddy Egan.
“Our three aims are to boost tourism, create employment and boost the local economy,” Mr Carney explained to the Leader last Friday, during the launch of the Professor Barry Raftery Memorial Conference.
“Professor Raftery held a number of areas of interest, in particular wooden trackways and associated features. He went on to lead the excavation of what is now known as the Corlea Trackway and his findings were published in 1996 as ‘Trackway excavations in the Mountdillon Bogs 1985-1991’. He made great friends with the people of Kenagh during his time there and we area delighted with the opportunity to honour his memory here.”
Paddy Egan, who came to know Professor Raftery very well, said, “Everyone in the area knew him as Barry,” he smiled. “He was an academic and spoke fluent German and yet he was a man, so very ordinary, with the ability to speak to the academics and to the ordinary man.”
Local councillor Mick Cahill, speaking on behalf of Bord na Móna, said the peat authority had been in discussion for a number of years with a view to preserving and enhancing Corlea. “Bord na Móna has an interest in assisting WHI to get local communities together to develop and enhance Longford Wetlands,” he added. “This has the potential to become a major tourist attraction and we all need to work together on this.”
Harry Hall, WHI said that the conference would also provide an opportunity for him to outline the long-term plans of WHI in relation to the development of Corlea Bog and Trackway in the months and years ahead.
“Bord na Móna plans to make the wetlands bio-diverse in the future and there will be no more drainage of bogs,” he explained. “That means that wildlife species will return and we will be able to engage in a study of wildlife habitats in the area. The archaeological field school in conjunction with NUIG will be established here in Kenagh. The iron village will be built and we see this as a major tourist attraction in the area. These projects are about community participation and we will all work together to ensure that these plans come to fruition. This will be about goodwill and co-operation.”
Alf Monaghan has travelled the world and holds a particular interest in Egypt. “There is a major connection between Ireland and Egypt,” he said, adding that a map dating back to 150AD indicated numerous locations in Ireland “along major rivers” where trading took place.
“The Shannon was the major highway, if you like, back then and if we could lift the veil on this, the community of the time could be discovered. Egypt has a major role to play in all of this because we now understand that the Egyptian Christians believed that it was they that christianised Ireland and not St Patrick. We know now that St Patrick ‘Romanised’ Ireland, so there is much to be learned.”
Funding for the conference has been provided for by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Environment Fund while funding for the major project at Corlea Trackway will be sourced through the Rural Development Programme and the Heritage Council, once the go-ahead is given by the OPW.