A SCARIFF SOCIAL enterprise working to conserve Ireland’s plant genetic resources has been celebrated in a new book.

Irish Seed Savers Association was the venue in recent days for the latest in-person launch of ‘Other Stories, Cultural Heritage & Society’. The Association’s Scarriff hub was a hive of activity as the local group gathered with representatives of International Council on Monuments & Sites (ICOMOS) Ireland and many others who contributed to the book.

The history of the X-PO, since its foundation by artist Deirdre O’Mahony in 2008, is described in detail in the book. From the first event, an installation of paintings, texts, newspaper clippings and other items dating back to the time when long-time postmaster, Mattie Rynne, was at the helm, to more recent initiatives, Other Stories, celebrates the ingenuity of local people.

The venue has served as a meeting place for a number of local groups and Deirdre, as planned, was able to step back and hand the X-PO over to the community. “Reopening the post office has stimulated discussion on how to maintain an active, inclusive, social community while maintaining contact with the knowledge and sense of place that comes from thoughtful consideration and involvement with the locality,” the book’s authors noted.

ICOMOS Ireland funded the free book which showcases the work and importance of 15 culture, heritage and society projects on the island of Ireland and gives a voice to those involved in the form of personal reflections.

Head of Irish Seed Savers Association, Elaine Bradley, welcomed the publication and the vital role it plays in showcasing the community-led approach to heritage conservation at Irish Seed Savers. “Not alone does Irish Seed Savers curate the heritage seed and apple trees entrusted to our care, but we preserve the stories and memories of those who have tended and maintained these vital plant genetic resources through generations. In this time of catastrophic biodiversity loss, the plant genetic materials we hold are the building blocks of future food systems and the stories associated with them are the blue prints for their use – wisdom gleaned over generations,” she said.

Speaking at the launch, Fidelma Mullane, President of ICOMOS Ireland, commented, “The Faro Convention emphasises the important aspects of heritage as they relate to human rights and democracy. It promotes a wider understanding of heritage and its relationship to communities and society. The Convention encourages us to recognise that objects and places are not, in themselves, what is important about cultural heritage. They are important because of the meanings and uses that people attach to them and the values they represent.”

The publication captures the invaluable work done by Irish Seed Savers Association and examines how it and each of the featured projects started, what sustains them, and their broader impact as well as how they give us all a much greater appreciation of heritage and its relationship to communities and society.

The launch is part of a nationwide tour which also visits Mayo and Fermanagh and ends in Dublin in late November. Free copies of Other Stories are available at each event, thanks to the support and funding from the Heritage Council, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Dublin City Council and Dublin Port Company.

Other Stories was launched at an online event by Heritage and Electoral Reform Minister, Malcolm Noonan, TD (GP) as part of the ICOMOS Ireland annual Maura Shaffrey Lecture during the pandemic. ICOMOS Ireland undertook the research and advocacy project to highlight the spirit and principles of the Faro Convention as expressed in an Irish context.

“This is a wonderful culmination of a lot of collaborative effort and brings together many projects based on our common heritage and cultural values. In it are many stories of various projects around our country that bring about a whole new understanding of the cultural values that are really important to us,” the Junior Minister outlined.

He added, “The idea that cultural heritage can be used as a force for good and bring together voices that are not always heard makes it really good as well. We can use cultural heritage to include people in participative structures and bring about proper planning, ecological diversity and a whole new changed world view in terms of how we see the future.

Workhouse Union’s Rosie Lynch explained, “Alongside ICOMOS Ireland, and guided by our co-author Eimear O’Connell (Heritage Consultant) we selected projects that showcase the work of individuals and organisations across an evolving spectrum of heritage that best advocates a more inclusive, considered and creative approaches which present, protect and sustainably develop the rich seams of cultural heritage in Ireland”.

The specially selected projects include in the book are X-PO, 14 Henrietta Street, The Bridge Street Project, Kilmuckridge Song Project, Diamond War Memorial, Foyle Punt, Meitheal Mara, Battles, Bricks and Bridges, Headford Lace Project, Great Western Greenway, Irish Seed Savers, Thomastown Community River Trust, Bi Urban, Migrant Women: Shared Experiences, Missling on the Tobar.

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