The Office of Public Works (OPW) has responsibility for the day-to-day running of National Monuments in State ownership or guardianship. It has a conservation remit under the National Monuments Acts 1930 - 2004 to maintain the National Monuments in State care and an active, though non-statutory, role in facilitating presentation and public access.
The approach of the OPW Heritage Services is essentially conservation and protection oriented with the bulk of resources dedicated to this end. The vast majority of national monuments in State care are presented to the public without specific visitor facilities such as a guide service. Public access however, to heritage attractions is a high priority and much effort has been made to improve access and information at all built heritage sites.
There is a total of almost 1,000 individual National Monuments in State care at approximately 768 locations around the country. As a general policy, the OPW facilitates visitor access to as many National Monument sites as possible, however, access is not always feasible due to a range of issues including physical location, risks associated with dangerous structures, and restrictions imposed in some cases by landowners who may wish to limit access, either temporarily or more long term, by reason of accident risk, livestock etc.
Having regard to principles of Universal Access, the OPW is committed insofar as is feasible to ensure that heritage sites in its care which are open to the public are as accessible as possible to all users. However, given the nature of these properties, their antiquity and restrictions in terms of works permitted under Section 14 of the National Monuments Act, it is not always possible to provide universal access.
At sites where there are accessibility issues the OPW endeavours to bring this to visitors’ attention on our website, www.heritageireland.ie.
The OPW offers free entry for visitors with disabilities and their accompanying carers at all of our sites where an admission charge applies. The OPW is committed to providing the best possible experience to visitors with disabilities and, accordingly, provides a range of disability awareness and related training to the visitor-facing staff at our heritage sites. For example, the OPW recently engaged Arts & Disability Ireland to provide Disability Equality Training, specifically tailored for arts organisations who want to include artists and audiences with disabilities in what they do and, also, Painting with Words – an Audio Description training course that will better empower our guide staff to provide tours to visitors with visual challenges.
The OPW has also, within the last two years, run Deaf Awareness and Irish Sign Language (ISL) training courses for some of its staff. In addition to this, we run a scheduled programme of ISL tours at sites around the country, albeit currently interrupted by Covid 19 but which it is intended, will resume in 2022. We endeavour to provide ISL interpretation on request but given that such requests usually involve advance planning and notification, we are examining ways to support independent, unplanned visits. We are, therefore, developing ISL video tours that will enable members of the Deaf community to join regular scheduled tours. The first of these can be viewed on the Tintern Abbey page on the Heritage Ireland website and more are in production. We are also in the process of developing other ISL resources such as the ISL interpretation associated with Mná 100, an online resource on the role of women in Irish history. This and other ISL resources can be found at the ISL Resources tab on the Dublin Castle website www.dublincastle.ie. The OPW has also commenced a process of adding ISL interpretation to existing AV films; an example of this can be seen on the Reginald’s Tower page on the Heritage Ireland website.
The OPW is also working to make our heritage sites more autism-friendly. Many OPW guides have received training from AsIAm, Ireland's National Autism Charity and have developed Social Guides to help autistic visitors prepare for their visit. This information can be found under the ‘Social Guide’ section of the individual site pages on the Heritage Ireland website.
Some OPW guide staff have recently participated in Azure training for the delivery of art tours that are tailored towards people living with dementia and their families and friends. The OPW is also participating in an Erasmus+ project application, ‘AIDA - Alzheimer patients Interaction through Digital and Arts’, with other European partners. Following on from these initiatives, we hope to be in a position to offer dementia-friendly experiences at our heritage sites in 2022.