NOT everyone may be familiar with the annual EU Prizes for Cultural Heritage for the simple reason that they are called Europa Nostra Awards. The scheme celebrates best practice related to heritage conservation, research, management, voluntarism, education and communication and this year there were twenty-nine ‘laureates’ from eighteen different countries honoured for their notable achievements in conservation. There were no less than 202 worthy applications from across Europe, but only one from Ireland – that in support of Jim Callery, the saviour of Strokestown House in County Roscommon.
Callery is the local businessman who famously paid a visit in 1979 to the last chatelaine of Strokestown, Ms Pakenham Mahon, and came away having acquired the Palladian mansion lock, stock and 300 acres. But remarkably Callery’s interest was in restoring the house rather than living in it for himself. Since then, as the citation reads ‘he has saved a vital historic country estate for Ireland and has created an important museum and archive dealing with this pivotal moment in the country’s history’. This of course is a reference to the celebrated Famine Museum and archive now housed in the magnificent stable building with its vaulting carried on a row of Tuscan columns.
remarkably Callery’s interest was in restoring the house rather than living in it for himself
Over the years, Callery has personally ploughed millions into this project and his contribution is described as ‘the largest act of private philanthropy for cultural heritage in the history of modern Ireland’. It certainly deserves the EU Award which was one of only three laureates made personally rather than to a large heritage project. But time is moving on for Jim Callery (82) and happily a new arrangement has been made to secure the future for Strokestown House. Last year, the Irish Heritage Trust (which is financed as a division of the Arts Department), signed a ten-year contract to manage the estate and presumably to underwrite the deficit. All of which is good news for the village of Strokestown whose greatest boast to date has been that its main street is said to be wider even than the Ringstrasse in Vienna. But it was mixed news for Jim who in May had to go to Turku (of all places) to join 1,200 ‘heritage people and top level representatives from EU institutions’ at the Awards ceremony presided over by the President of Europa Nostra who turns out to be none other than Placido Domingo. Yes that Placido! JM