In 2009, Buttevant Heritage Group was formed with the purpose of learning how to listen to the stories from our past. Buttevant Heritage Group is based in the town of Buttevant and embraces a wide hinterland. Though Buttevant town is a medieval walled town, it and its environs has a wealth of historical sites dating from different periods of Irish history: pagan, early Christian, Anglo Norman and the British Empire. We have the relics of political, monastic and military power, from different centuries, along our streets and these can tell us many stories.
From the onset, the BHG adopted an approach based on rigorous historical and archaeological research. We strive for excellence in our work – whether researching our history or organising events for our community and in making meaningful connections between our heritage and our community.
Since 2009, we have undertaken several large projects. In March 2011 we hosted an academic conference in Springfort Hall, Mallow. It was attended by key academics from Ireland and abroad. These eminent scholars told us that Buttevant was a planned Norman town, following a Bastide pattern, typical of a great number of planned towns in South West France. The proceedings of this conference were edited and published as Buttevant: A Medieval Anglo-French Town in Ireland, by the historian and archaeologist, Eamon Cotter. We liaised with the statutory bodies and sought the advice and financial support of the Heritage Council of Ireland for our initiatives. This work gained for us the status of Medieval Walled Town and placed us amongst an elite network of Medieval Walled Towns in Ireland. We operate under the guidance of the Irish Walled Towns Network (IWTN) http://irishwalledtownsnetwork.ie/, an arm of the Heritage Council, https://www.heritagecouncil.ie/. The local community embraced our Walled Town status and over several years we held our hugely successful Medieval Walled Town Days against the backdrop of Barry’s Castle.
Heritage Ireland trained several members of our group as tour guides and during the summer months we host weekly walking tours of Buttevant’s medieval sites.
2016 and its many commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising gave us an opportunity to remember the part Buttevant’s sons played in that moment of our history. Buttevant Heritage Group hosted a very successful exhibition, “Buttevant Military Barracks and the 1916 Story”, where previously unseen maps, photos and documentation were put on public display. Buttevant has an important link to the turbulent relationship between Ireland and the British Empire. Buttevant was home to a large military barracks, built by John Anderson after 1812. Several miles outside Buttevant, on the foothills of the Ballyhoura Mountains, was Ballyvonare Miliary Camp. Thousands of soldiers were garrisoned at these sites and they had a close relationship with the action of World War 1, from enlisting to the rest and recuperation of injured soldiers. The Barracks played a crucial role in the economic, social and architectural fabric of Buttevant and surrounding areas.
Our research and Medieval Walled Town status allowed us to win funding for a number of projects, among them signage for some of our medieval sites, lighting of Ballybeg Abbey, commissioning of two large murals in the town and banners, flags and literature publicising our guided walking tours. Our most recent project is the impressive map of Medieval Buttevant and artist’s impressions of our key heritage sites by the artist Uto Hogerzeil, which was subsidised by a grant from the Heritage Council of Ireland.
The documentary evidence and academic experience at our disposal needed more concrete verification. The practical necessity of road works to provide a proper road through our town has, in an unforeseen way, helped to reveal the missing links. Such was the scale of the archaeological discoveries on Buttevant’s Main St, that BHG and the NRA hosted an afternoon meeting on August 29, to share the findings with the local community. This meeting, “Buttevant’s Not so Hidden Hidden History” attracted a large audience and many stayed to examine the maps, diagrams and exhibits over a cup of tea. Little did we know what was yet to be found, amongst them, a gold ring, dated 1713; a pier of the North Gate; an extensive stretch of the cobbled main street; steps into an underground room and numerous artefacts – pottery, bones, a curler for a wig, buckles, etc. BHG are hoping to organise a tour of the dig shortly, so people can better understand the work of the archaeologists while everything is still exposed and on view. The archaeologist’s report which will follow completion of the works will then give context and meaning to these findings and help us to hear the stories they tell of their times.
BHG are also members of the wider Buttevant community and are mindful of the inconvenience and hardship being visited on local businesses and the public. However, we confidently believe that at the end of all this, Buttevant will become an important landmark in the growing area of cultural tourism. With this in mind, Buttevant has just recently been accepted into Tourism Ireland’s latest marketing initiative: “Ireland’s Ancient East.” This expands our linkages beyond local heritage sites to heritage sites as diverse as Newgrange and Lismore. This cultural tourism promises to generate new and enduring income for the people of the town.
Our archaeological findings have captured the imagination of the Facebook community. Photos, information and videos on the dig posted on our Facebook page, “Medieval Buttevant,” have excited comment and debate locally, nationally and internationally. Indeed, the findings have also attracted the attention of our national media.
In short, what is unfolding in our town over these current months, will yield a new road and far greater knowledge of Buttevant’s rich heritage to the huge benefit of the town and its people.
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Buttevant, Co. Cork, Ireland.