3-6 November, Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, Ireland.
Is their a future in tourism for mining heritage? The MINET conference in Nenagh presented a positive view but provided no simple answers. With visitor numbers falling at industrial museums across the UK there are no simple answers. Each project has to be assessed on its merits.
The conference was presented with accounts of existing schemes in a number of European countries and a range of projects which highlighted the diversity of approach to mining tourism. Local initiative dominated the Irish presentations. Only the National Mine Heritage Centre at Shallee/Silvermines, co. Tipperary, has government funding. Here a ĢIRL1m grant is being supplemented by a similar amount raised by Shannon Heritage (a subsidiary of Shannon Development), with considerable experience in promoting tourism in the region. It is only six years since mining ceased in the area with the closure of the massive barytes quarry at Ballynoe. Deep mining at the nearby 'Mogul' mine having ceased in 1982. And the project area is littered with the debris of modern mining. Yet the range of processes and techniques for which there is surviving evidence make Shallee an ideal interpretative site for visitors. The involvement of Shannon Heritage should assure continued investment in the development of a dynamic site. Apart from the Glengowla Mine, a small lead mining museum developed as a private venture in co. Galway, the future of other Irish projects at Bunmahon, co. Waterford, and Avoca, co. Wicklow, would appear to lie in their incorporation into general, area based tourist initiatives. Avoca already has a strong tourist base which may be tapped and directed to the extensive mining remains freely available in the area. On the other hand Bunmahon has relatively few significant surface remains on which to focus visitor interest. It would be best served my the incorporation of these into a mining trail which might be linked to an extension of the projected Wexford coastal path eastwards along the coast of co. Waterford. Here, and at Avoca, the aim would be to encourage visitors to stay in the area, generating income through the use of local facilities.
Local enthusiasm for the preservation of mining structures, particularly at Bunmahon and Avoca, has highlighted a lack of awareness as to best practice in Ireland. This is exacerbated by a lack of clarity as to the status of mining sites of post 1700 date in the republic. However, Duchas (Irish monuments) representatives at the conference made it clear that while there might be no automatic statutory protection for such sites they would expect a full record to be made prior to conservation work being carried out. And, they would where necessary bring important features within their remit. This was reinforced by regular references to the importance of mining features within the overall landscape. Reservations as to the fragility of mining features was not confined to Ireland. There was evidence of the encroachment of subsidised agriculture into the heart of sites around Linares in Spain. At Dolaucothi a clash of interests in the use of this important Roman mining site should shortly be resolved with the assignment of the Crown mineral lease to the National Trust. However, falling visitor numbers have to be reconciled with changes to focus on the archaeology of Roman rather than 19th/20th century mining.
It is perhaps significant that three successful interpretative sites, Killhope in Weardale, Fournel at L'Argentiere la Bessee in south-east France and Scopriminera in the Piemonte region of northern Italy, had an educational role. Fournel has successfully promoted itself as a centre of excellence in the training of archaeologists skilled in mining related investigation. All had a role to play in the presentation of mining history to school children. Evidence presented to the conference suggested that mining tourism on anything more than a small local scale was unlikely to be funded entirely by the private sector. On the other hand it was clear that links with local authority could bring benefits for the long term survival and development of tourist mine sites. Links to education is just one element. The reuse of mining sites in the regeneration of the local economy is another. As Ian Forbes pointed out in relation to the Killhope site - "From a local authority viewpoint industrial heritage has no intrinsic value. It has value as an asset with potential and that potential is through tourism and economic development."
Relationships between mining archaeology and tourism have already been touched on in relation to the conservation of projected Irish sites and the conflicting interests at the existing visitor site at Dolaucothi in Wales. The work carried out at Fournel in developing a methodology for the investigation of mining sites has shown how the two can exist in harmony. Increased numbers of visitors returning to the site to follow up ongoing archaeological work has demonstrated its value. However the interpretation of prehistoric mining archaeology introduces new problems. It is recognised that sites, as at Mount Gabriel, with well researched evidence for Bronze Age activity do not necessarily lend themselves to visits from large numbers of the public. The fragile upland peat landscape at Mount Gabriel in particular, now a scheduled ancient monument, would be damaged beyond recovery. At Ross Island near Killarney, allowing for better control within an existing National Park, some interpretation for visitors is intended as an educational initiative.
This conference in Nenagh marks the end of the first phase of the MINET project. That has allowed for a exchange of ideas and experience between the partner groups. Experience over the last year suggests that there are ways forward in co-operation in mining tourism. Building on a scheme initiated by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture in Andorra the idea of mining itineraries, linking similar sites across Europe, is under investigation. This would provide the basis for a bid for money under the European Interreg III scheme.
A further conference, not funded by the MINET project but related to the sponsorship of mining tourism, is proposed for Spring of next year. That will be at Perticara, a former sulphur mining museum in the Apennine Mountains of central Italy. The work of bodies like the International Committee for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage (TICCIH) and bids for World Heritage status for areas like Cornwall and the Tamar Valley mean a continuing requirement for the interpretation of mining heritage. Mining tourism, effectively and sensitively developed, has a part to play in that interpretation.
Go to the MINET website at http://minet.era.ie for more details.