The articulation of what it is that makes a place unique and individual is fundamental to the Townlands Project

A central aim of the Townlands Project has been to discover, and attempt to articulate, something of what it is that makes this parish landscape unique, most especially to those who live within its embrace. The hope for the seminar or public conversation was that it might broaden its range through the presentation of other unique landscapes and that the discussion might further explore the social and cultural conditions which have shaped them.

The speakers who were invited to address these themes were poet and writer, Carmel Cummins; poet and novelist Kerry Hardie; travel writer, Dervla Murphy; and essayist and scholar, Prof Patrick J.Duffy of NUIM. The discussion was moderated by Helen Carroll of RTE’s Ear to the Ground.

The territory of the Townlands Project is a landscape in the northern part of County Kilkenny, or more specifically, those nine townlands which comprise the old civil parish of Rathcoole and which lie on the southern slopes of the Sliabh Margy Hills to the north of Kilkenny City. This is a small territory with, at first glance, no obviously remarkable features which might differentiate it from its surrounding countryside. That is, of course, until one begins to look more closely and to discover among its soft topography an underlay of memory specific to this place and the lives that have been lived here for centuries.

All of the speakers hailed from outside of this parish and they were invited to tell us what it is that makes their own home place and local landscape so special to them. They were invited to write an essay for the project publication and to present a summary or reflection of this to the seminar audience.

Poet Carmel Cummins was invited to write and talk about her relationship to the farm on which she grew up in Tullogher, Co Kilkenny and how she is seeking to rediscover place and childhood through the record of its fields; poet and novelist, Kerry Hardie, on being an outsider or interloper in the landscape she now calls home in Skeoughvosteen, Co Kilkenny, a place to which she gives wonderful voice in her work; travel writer Dervla Murphy on the joys, or disappointments, of travelling home to the landscape of Lismore, Co Waterford. Professor Patrick J. Duffy addressed the physical and cultural history of his own local landscape and the changes wrought upon it and on its social fabric over the centuries.

This was not to be the kind of formal occasion where prepared papers are “presented”. Rather it was a warm and loose occasion where audience members were also encouraged to state what they feel it is that makes this parish unique in their eyes and hearts. Helen Carroll of RTE’s farm based programme, Ear to the Ground, who also lives on the slopes of these hills, accepted the invitation to facilitate the discussion and her public profile and calm professionalism proved a great asset to the occasion.

The texts prepared as background to their contributions by the invited speakers  are also seen as central to the overall project documentary publication 1n 2011. Excerpts from these individual contributions can be read below.

A fundamental goal of the Townlands Project is to stall the gradual erasure of local vernacular heritage and possibly to re-invigorate it. Given the experience of the Townlands Project, and of the lessons learned during its research phase, Johnswell Development Committee sought to establish a methodology of heritage and folklore research, in short, a Field Name Research Handbook, which can be replicated by other communities within the county. This process was supported by Kilkenny Leader Partnership. An outline of this proposed methodology, the need for it, and related issues, were also discussed during the seminar.

The evening concluded with refreshments provided by the local parish committee.