Donegal Historic Towns Initiatives scoop national awards

Donegal County Council and its partners scooped two national awards for its Historic Towns Initiatives at two award ceremonies in Dublin last Thursday evening.

The Ballyshannon Historic Towns Initiative won the Community & Heritage Award at the KPMG – Irish Independent Property Industry Excellence Awards in The Convention Centre in Dublin while the Ramelton Historic Towns Initiative won the Heritage & Built Environment Award at the Chambers Ireland Excellence in Local Government Awards in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dublin.

“It’s great to see our heritage-led approach to the Historic Towns Initiatives in Ballyshannon and Ramelton recognised at these awards” said Joseph Gallagher, County Donegal Heritage Officer. “These initiatives recognise that we need to be more ambitious, set much higher standards and be more collaborative in our approach to the conservation of built heritage in our towns and villages. The destruction and replacement of historic buildings is not a sustainable or responsible approach and robs our towns and villages of part of their character. Our historic built environment is durable, adaptable, attractive and fit-for-purpose. The conservation of our historic buildings and streetscapes also provide opportunities for upskilling contractors, developing traditional skills, providing employment and creating places of employment. What the Historic Towns Initiatives have shown is that the loss of historic character, built heritage fabric and even our historic buildings themselves need not, and should not, be the price we have to pay for progress. The property owners in Ballyshannon and Ramelton, our partners in these initiatives, recognise that their ambitions for their buildings and their towns can be addressed with a heritage-led approach that places community engagement and built heritage conservation at its core. Our approach to the treatment of our historic buildings and streetscapes is rooted in best conservation practice, enlists traditional building skills, protects the historic fabric and aesthetic of our built environment, and is responsible in terms of economic and climate considerations.”

The Ballyshannon Historic Towns Initiative represented a cross‐directorate partnership between the Housing, Corporate & Culture Directorate and the Community Development & Planning Services Directorate of Donegal County Council and was co-managed by the Heritage Officer and Conservation Officer. “Last Thursday evening, this presented us with quite a dilemma” said Joseph Gallagher. “Both of the awards ceremonies for which we were nominated were taking place on the same evening at the same time but in two different venues in Dublin. In order to have a presence at both events, we split the Historic Towns Initiative project team into two groups and kept in contact via WhatsApp over the course of the evening! Once we won the Community & Heritage Award at the KPMG – Irish Independent Property Industry Excellence Awards, our attention shifted to the Chambers Ireland Excellence in Local Government Awards. It was an agonising 30-minute wait but winning the Heritage & Built Environment Award was worth it. After the ceremonies were over, we were reunited and celebrated our joint successes.”

“The Chambers Ireland Heritage & Built Environment Award celebrates the best initiative by a local authority to promote public interest in, and knowledge, appreciation and protection of local heritage” said Collette Beattie, Conservation Officer, Donegal County Council. “The KPMG – Irish independent Community & Heritage Award recognises initiatives that involve the local community in the re-use, conservation and preservation of our historic buildings or in designing public realm schemes that complement the historic built environment. Fourteen historic buildings along Castle Street, Back Lane, at the Market Cross and the House on the Brae on Bridge Street, Ramelton benefitted under the Ramelton Historic Towns Initiative in 2020. Twelve historic buildings along The Mall and the Manor House on Upper Main Street in Ballyshannon benefitted under the Ballyshannon Historic Towns Initiative in 2021. Conservation works undertaken included roof and chimney repairs, addressing structural issues, installation of cast-iron rainwater goods, reinstatement of timber sash windows and doors, reinstatement of traditional hand-painted signage and the repair and reinstatement of historic shopfronts informed by best conservation practice and historical evidence. We were fortunate to work with our wonderful community partners, the Ramelton Georgian Society, the Ballyshannon Regeneration Group and local property owners on these great initiatives.”

The Historic Towns Initiatives were funded by The Heritage Council, the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage, Donegal County Council and local property owners and conservation works were supervised by conservation architect Duncan McLaren, Dedalus Architecture. The latest awards build on earlier successes that saw the Ramelton Historic Towns Initiative win the Urban Design Award at the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland national awards in June and also be highly commended in the Sustainability category. The Ramelton Historic Towns Initiative was one of three projects shortlisted for the Sustainable Heritage Award at the inaugural Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings [SPAB] Heritage Awards in London in early November. The Letterkenny Historic Towns Initiative also won the President’s Highly-Commended Project Award at the Irish Planning Institute Awards in February 2020.

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