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Patrimoine/Cultural Heritage in France and Ireland

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Edited By Eamon Maher and Eugene O'Brien

This collection of essays explores the concept of patrimoine, a French word used to denote cultural heritage, traditional customs and practices – the Gaelic equivalent is dúchas – and the extent to which it impacts on France and Ireland. Borrowing from disciplines as varied as sociology, cultural theory, literature, marketing, theology, history, musicology and business, the contributors to the volume unearth interesting manifestations of how patrimoine resonates across cultural divides and bestows uniqueness and specificity on countries and societies, sometimes in a subliminal manner.

Issues covered include debt as heritage, Guinness as a cultural icon of «Irishness», faith-based tourism, the Huguenot heritage in Ireland, Irish musical inheritances since Independence, Skellig Michael and the commodification of Irish culture.

With a Foreword by His Excellency M. Stéphane Crouzat, French Ambassador to Ireland, this collection breaks new ground in assessing the close links between France and Ireland, links that will become all the more important in light of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.

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5 The Reification of Sceilg Mhichíl (Catherine Maignant)

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Catherine Maignant

5 The Reification of Sceilg Mhichíl

The history of Skellig Michael is shrouded in mystery. From the earliest times to the present, memories of shipwrecks, ghosts and graveyards have associated the place with death and the Otherworld. The choice of St Michael, the arch-enemy of satanic forces, as patron saint of the rock reinforces the grim feeling that its steep slopes and barely accessible peaks have been a key battleground for the endless struggle between light and darkness, good and evil, life and death. The scanty evidence that has survived from the distant past leaves ground for so many conjectures that imagination and irrationality have surreptitiously found their way to the heart of rational modern and contemporary interpretations of the site, to the extent that it is difficult to know if the heritage of Skellig Michael that is being handed down to present and future generations is a fake or not. Yet preservation and conservation have been on the agenda for decades, particularly since 1996, when the island and its early monastic remains were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Heritage policies naturally raise several questions. Should ancient sites be made untouchable, turned into museums and venerated as sacred?1 Or should life be breathed into them for fear that heritage might come to be understood as fixed, inert, in other words, dead and irrelevant?2 In any case, heritage is a social construct, and attitudes to it...

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