The Irish Heritage School is deeply embedded in and committed to the communities in which it operates.

All IHS programs are built on an inclusive, partnership approach, with the underlying ethos that for a program to be successful, it must be of tangible value to the local community.

Each program identifies stakeholders and actively engages them in all parts of the process, from design and implementation to review and adaptation.

The IHS flagship project, the multi-award winning Blackfriary Community Heritage and Archaeology Project (BCHAP), was founded in 2010 as an initiative of the Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS) and Cultural Tourism Ireland (CTI), in partnership with the local community, Trim Municipal District, Meath Country Council, statutory organisations and a range of academic partners. The Black Friary is the site of a 13th century Dominican friary, located just outside the northern limits of the medieval town of Trim, County Meath. The main aim of BCHAP (formerly the Blackfriary Community Archaeology Project) is to protect the archaeological and architectural heritage of an important site, which over the past few decades had become an overgrown wasteland and the focus of anti-social behaviour. To read more about the project click here.

Unlike with the Blackfriary Community Heritage and Archaeology Project, the community links in Birr are a relatively new venture for IHS. In saying that Dr. Denis Shine has lived in Birr for the last 10 years and has long known that it is one of the most community orientated and activated towns in country; so when IHS was recently restructured and incorporated it was a natural partnership to pursue!

Unlike at Trim our relationship is being built from the grassroots up with full consultation and participation of local groups. The natural fulcrum of this has been the Birr 20/20 group, an organisation that was founded as an initiative to fill the gap left by the town council, which ceased to exist in May 2014. The dissolution of the town councils left a ‘gap in local governance’ and stymied the opportunities to easily build partnerships. Birr 20/20 is run by local people for local people, with pillars in each area that it sees as critical to the community of Birr, such as sports, tourism, food, the arts etc.

Birr 20/20 aims to develop a vision for Birr, its people and environment and plan an implementation strategy for the town in which partnership, collaboration and co-operation are the dominant characteristics. It is to provide continuity in leadership and ‘community memory’. Part of the groups remit is to create initiatives to make use of unused public buildings like the courthouse, the town hall and the old town hall offices.

One objective of the group as part of its early conception in 2014 was establishment of a summer school in Birr, which would bring the town to international attention. IHS are now exploring how they can contribute to this ambition of making Birr a location for summer students – pursuing avenues relating to natural heritage and community engagement. It is anticipated that community groups will help lead these initiatives in the future.

Having first spoken to the Birr 20/20 group in October 2016 the IHS school have since initiated a programme of archaeological research (primarily geo-physical survey) at the fringes of the town – with plans for more detailed surveys within the town for late spring/early summer in spring 2017. The first ‘guinea pig’ students arrive in the late summer (for a program of 3D scanning) with some other groups visiting the town to discuss its future potential as a student destination; the first extensive programme (in Environmental Science/Geology) is scheduled for July 2018.

This is a burgeoning and ambitious partnership, made possible by an enthused local community – so watch this space!