The exceptional skills and dedication of the local workforce was highlighted by Minister of State and Galway East TD, Sean Canney at the launch of OPW185 exhibition at Portumna Castle on Friday evening last.
Minister Canney said he was delighted and honoured to be the Minister for the OPW at a time when they are celebrating the significant and long lasting impact that the OPW has had on the quality of our infrastructure, the architecture of our built environment and the allure of our heritage attractions.
“This exhibition offers just a small snapshot indeed of the vast breadth of public works and services carried out by generations of OPW staff over the past 185 years,” said Minister Canney.
The ‘Family Room’ part of the exhibition includes some illustrated short stories and reminiscences of OPW staff. Minister Canney added: “This exhibition is a fascinating journey into the working lives of generations of OPW staff, operating nationally and regionally across Ireland over the past 185 years. This exhibition begins to tell the story of the OPW – and I think you will agree once you’ve seen the exhibition that it is a story worth telling. It reflects the story of our nation.”
“The former and current staff of the OPW deserve great praise for their legacy of the last 185 years. I am proud to follow in the footsteps of my father Christy Canney who served as a District Inspector in the OPW for twenty years from the 1960’s to the 1980’s serving in Castlebar, Limerick and Galway and who also contributed to the footprint and the legacy of the OPW.
“When future generations are looking back at my tenure as Minister I hope that they will be able to say that I made a contribution to the work of the OPW and in particular in advancing the provision of flood relief works and reducing the impact of flood risk on our communities and businesses in this country,” added Minister Canney.
Minister Canney said the skill and talent of the OPW workforce and the tradition of passing on those skills is demonstrated wonderfully by the story of David Little, based in Portumna. David came to work for the Athenry District Depot in 1981 as a young, 21-year-old, qualified stonecutter. The first project he was involved with was on Holy Island, in Mountshannon, where he worked to restore and preserve the Round Tower and six churches on the island. He remained there until the mid 80’s until work began on Portumna Castle itself. At that time David’s sister, Jacinta Little, also joined the OPW as an apprentice stonecutter.
Minister Canney said he believed she was the first female apprentice to work in National Monuments and studied her craft under the direction of her brother David. Jacinta still works for the OPW but is now based in Kilkenny Depot. Together they worked for over 15 years on various projects, not only in Portumna, but on other major projects such as the Visitor Centre in Clonmacnoise. In the early 90’s, David and Jacinta’s father joined the OPW as an already qualified stonecutter. He worked for four years together with his son and daughter and joined them in particular on the Clonmacnoise projects.
“During this period David was encouraged to travel to Germany for three months’ work experience to learn replication techniques. On his return he used these new skills on works such as the High Cross in Clonmacnoise.”
“Over the years a number of apprentices served their time under the supervision of David. During the recession there was a recruiting freeze but I am delighted that the apprentice scheme has been reactivated and David’s latest recruit Kieran Comer has joined him in their state of the art workshop in the Dowager House courtyard here in Portumna.”
“Some years ago David was the supervisor for the apprentice who carved the wonderful acorn stove which I am sure you have admired as you moved through this wonderful building this evening.
Minister Canney said that Portumna Castle is one of Ireland’s best surviving examples of a Jacobean manor house and, dating from the early 1600’s, gives us a fascinating glimpse of the lives of the De Burgo family who lived there for over 200 years.
“This is a wonderful site with a huge amount of history and character and I am determined that it will contribute much more significantly in the future to tourism in the area and help to sustain many more jobs locally.”
“I am very happy that the OPW and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs were able to contribute €100,000 to the project to upgrade the access road and it is quite clear that the work that has been carried out by the Council is an important step in providing excellent vehicle access not just to the Castle, but to the other attractions including the Parklands and the Marina that lie further along.”
Minister Canney commended Waterways Ireland also for their recent commitment to the site by upgrading their facilities at the Marina which will add significantly to the attractiveness of the site for visitors arriving both by road and by water.
“I am happy to note also that work is progressing well on the project for the provision of a new visitor building within the former stable block building in the old courtyard of the Castle. This building will incorporate a Café and Exhibition space and will also provide new facilities for visitors.
“We have very ambitious plans to make great use of the exhibition space, in particular to house programmes of artistic work and historical displays. The OPW management team at the site will be very interested to talk to local groups with a view to hearing their ideas and suggestions for any exhibitions they might have. We will be very proactive to ensure that we use the space very creatively to provide both an outlet for local groups and variety and interest for visitors.
“The restoration of the 17th Century Walled Kitchen Garden is an outstanding example of what can be achieved when organisations like the OPW partner with local groups. I pay tribute to Ruth Carty and all those who worked in partnership with us to restore the garden, keeping it within the standards of its 17th century ethos. I don’t need to tell anyone here what an enormous asset the garden is, not just to the Castle, but to the town of Portumna.
Minister Canney also paid tribute to the OPW staff currently working at Portumna Castle. “I note the fantastic work done by Frank Geraghty and his staff under the expert guidance of Senior Conservation Architect Michele O’Dea. Thanks also to Marie Gibbs and her guide staff who have done so much to organise this event.”
“I wish to acknowledge the great effort that went into the organisation of this exhibition by the OPW185 Team led by Angela Rolfe and the support provided by so many different areas within the OPW. This exhibition stands as testament not only to the proud history of the OPW but to the skill, dedication and professionalism of the present day workforce.