Medieval Offaly churches to get facelift as Just Transition grants are approved

Kilmurry: The Kilmurry site is unique in Offaly having a metal coffin stand and burial ground railings.

Kilmurry: The Kilmurry site is unique in Offaly having a metal coffin stand and burial ground railings.

THREE medieval churches in Offaly are being lined up for major conservation work after winning a grant from the Just Transition Fund.

Kilbride church and graveyard, which is close to the Grand Canal near Tullamore, Kilmurry church and burial ground, Shinrone, and the Monasteroris ruin and 1798 memorial were put forward for the funding by Offaly County Council heritage officer, Amanda Pedlow.

Ms Pedlow linked up with Laois County Council to lodge a joint application to the Just Transition Fund and approval was given last week for €748,000 to be spent over three years.

The Just Transition Fund, which has come under fire for being over-bureaucratic and slow to deliver, aims to support innovative projects that contribute to the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the Midlands and which have employment and enterprise potential.

The grant towards the medieval churches work in the two counties was delivered under the community resilience element of the overall fund.

Ms Pedlow said she saw the Just Transition Fund as a means of releasing long sought aid for the projects in Offaly.

“I went back and looked at the heritage plan so we put an application in for medieval churches based on three sites where the communities had been trying to get work done over the years,” she said.

The work at all sites will commence with a comprehensive conservation plan which will be drawn up by a team including a conservation architect, conservation engineer, archaeologist and ecologist. They will work with the community groups locally to plan works for each site to be delivered.

“This will include examining options from the All Ireland Pollinator Plan guidelines to see how best the sites can support pollinators. The proposals will then be submitted to the National Monuments Service for approval before conservation work will commence,” added the heritage officer.

“This programme runs for three years so it is anticipated the work in 2021 will focus on research and preparing the programme of works to commence on site in 2022 and 2023.”

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan TD said the project will bring significant benefits to the Laois and Offaly region.

“Every funded project will play a key role in the Midlands successfully adapting to a Just Transition while also benefitting communities and individuals most affected by the move away from peat-harvesting,” said Minister Ryan.

“This project alone will create up to 13 roles, both directly and indirectly. The conservation of these six medieval churches and their graveyards in Laois and Offaly is a terrific development for the communities around them. I am also delighted to see that action will be taken to promote biodiversity and pollinators at each site in partnership with the community.”

Nationally, he said there were now grant agreements with 26 projects through the first two strands of the Just Transition Fund and he expected the remaining agreements to be finalised shortly.

“These innovative projects include establishment of supporting local business development and green enterprises, tourism and greenway infrastructure, heritage, regional business hubs, re-skilling and training initiatives,” he said.

“These projects have the ability to transform the Midlands region and its communities in the transition to a low-carbon economy. They will bring new, innovative, green energy enterprises with the potential to boost the economy in communities and create viable employment options for the region.”

Cathaoirleach, Offaly County Council Cllr John Carroll said : “It is great news that there will be positive interaction with communities at a church site in each of the municipal districts, I look forward to seeing works progress over the next three years.”

Cllr Carroll added: “Over the years Laois and Offaly County Council heritage officers have been working with a range of communities to care for their medieval churches and the surrounding graveyards. It is a key objective in the Offaly Heritage Plan 2017-21. These sites are a direct link to our medieval past and often are located at sites of importance dating right back to the early Christian period. They are very special places for local communities, of interest to visitors, as well as being the burial grounds for so many families. With increased extreme weather events and the impact of climate change there is an acknowledgement that the work to conserve these sites is more important than ever.

“This conservation programme has received a huge boost with the allocation of Just Transition funding which will be used to conserve three churches in each county over the next three years. There are several strands to Just Transition funding and this programme has received funding through the Community Resilience Strand. This uses the deep connection people have to their local heritage as a tool to build community capacity, working with local community organisations to develop their capacity to respond to changes in the environment, and raise awareness of greener, cleaner, healthier communities.”

The Laois sites chosen are Kilmanman, Clonaslee, Dysart Gallen, Aughnacross and Clopook graveyard, Lugacurren, Stradbally.

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