Moydrum Castle.

Historians will lead focus on Moydrum fire and Everest trek

The burning of the Castle at Moydrum and the Everest expedition of 1921 – led by Belvedere House owner Charles Howard Bury – are two notable facets of the heritage of Westmeath that are to be commemorated this year, the county’s heritage officer, Melanie McQuade has revealed.

These however are just the headline events out of a larger scheduled for the year Ms McQuade explained during a presentation to the members of Westmeath County Council during their March monthly meeting.

Moydrum Castle, most famously known in recent years for featuring on the U2's 1984 album 'The Unforgettable Fire', was burned in July of 1921 by IRA volunteers in one of the most notable incidents in the War of the Independence locally. Then the home of Lord and Lady Castlemaine, the castle has lain in ruin ever since.

Leading the county council’s effort to mark the anniversaries will be two historians-in-residence and a creative practitioner in residence she continued, adding that much use will be made of digital technologies both to store and share dimensions of the county’s heritage.

Ms McQuade said that this year the funding has been increased significantly: the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media have made €50,000 available to each local authority for their local ‘Decade of Centenaries’ programmes.

"We have ring-fenced some of our budgets for virtual outputs and events to mark historic centenaries at local level," she told councillors.

The historians in residence appointed are Dr Paul Hughes who commenced in March and will hold the position until July. The second residency runs from August until December with Dr Ian Kenneally in the role.

"The aim of the historians in residence program is to create a legacy of research and/or cultural material for future generations which can be accessible online," Ms McQuade said, adding that the historians will also engage with community groups other local historians and historical societies.

"The creative practitioner will engage with community groups, local historians and individuals and will liaise with the historians in residence," she stated.

Ms McQuade said the plan is to work in consultation with local communities to create engaging digital outputs include such as film, virtual talks, podcasts and digitisation of material relating to the decade of centenaries.

She explained that it is anticipated that most of the events this year will have to be held virtually given the Covid restrictions.

Ms McQuade said that the current historian in residence, Dr Hughes, has issued a call-out asking people to share photographs of ancestors who were active locally during the War of Independence or the Civil War in order to contribute to the documentary evidence of the era.

Cllr Frankie Keena said the Decade of Centenaries programme looked very exciting for this year and engaging for communities, which, he said, is so important.

He was particularly looking forward to working with the team on the Moydrum Castle centenary and was pleased that one of the historians in residence is to be Dr Kenneally who lives near him.

Congratulations came too from Cllr Hazel Smyth who suggested that to engage with the younger demographic that the council make use of the TikTok platform as well as YouTube videos and Facebook Live. “I think this could be really beneficial to students hands to the younger people within our community who may not necessarily be looking at the Westmeath County Council website but maybe quite eager to check out some that content through social media.”

Ms McQuade responded that Dr Hughes is looking at setting up a dedicated social media account. She added that the council recently launched a You Tube channel, and to access the historians there is a new email address historian@westmeathcoco.ie

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