The €1.95 million project aims to raise awareness, protect shared cultural and natural heritage and support sustainable engagement, establishing two new experiential tourism and cultural cross-border networks.

Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT)’s School of Humanities leads a new transdisciplinary pilot project exploring the earliest connection between Ireland and Wales. Portalis maps the story of the first human journey between Ireland and Wales dating back to the Mesolithic period, in the context of contemporary resilience and climate adaption for both local coastal communities and their visitors.

New visitor experience

This is achieved by consolidating existing evidence with new data to develop a powerful new cross-border narrative, accessible within a new visitor experience at Waterford Museum of Treasures, Ireland, and Ceredigion Museum, Wales. The €1.95 million project aims to raise awareness and support community and business sustainable engagement, resulting in the establishment of two new experiential tourism and cultural networks in both Ireland and Wales.

Historic connections between Ireland and Wales

The Irish Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath, TD, said:

“There are special and interlinked historic, cultural, academic and economic bonds linking communities in Ireland and Wales across the Irish Sea. This Sea is not a barrier but rather a shared space and a link between peoples. In developing this project to create a new narrative, I wish the Portalis Project every success and congratulate the partners on accessing funding from the 2014-2020 Ireland Wales Cooperation Programme. The approach of utilising traditional archaeological techniques in combination with digital technologies while closely involving local communities to highlight our shared natural and cultural heritage is to be commended and is well worthy of support. Like all other projects funded under this EU Programme it acts as a visible symbol of the ongoing close cooperation between Wales and the South East of Ireland.”

Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport, Welsh Government, Dawn Bowden, commented: “We welcome the development of projects that will strengthen our relationships with our closest European neighbour, and this project will provide a fascinating insight into exploring the earliest connections between Ireland and Wales.”

Ireland Wales Cooperation programme

Supported by €1.5m from by the European Regional Development Fund through the Ireland Wales Cooperation programme, the project consists of four partners, Lead Partner Waterford Institute of Technology and Operation Partners University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Ceredigion County Council, and Waterford Chamber of Commerce.

The Ireland Wales 2014-2020 European Territorial Co-operation (ETC) programme is a maritime programme connecting businesses and communities on the West coast of Wales with the South-East coast of Ireland. The programme focuses on seeking solutions to shared challenges including adaption of the Irish Sea and coastal communities to climate change, and cultural and natural resources and heritage.

20-month project

The 20-month project commencing in February features a range of different techniques including drilled core sampling, excavation, lab analysis, citizen archaeology, visitor experience design with film and virtual reality, a new app with a 3D online exhibition, and tailored network development events and resources.

Dr Suzanne Denieffe, Head of School of Humanities at WIT said, “We are delighted to be leading the Portalis project. This project is important and timely in that it speaks to key Irish and Welsh strategy and policy documents and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The unique wealth of nationally important natural and cultural heritage sites within the joint operation jurisdiction, together with the outlined project activities, provides new cross border shared data, and this will in turn underpin further research.

The project also promotes healthy living by using coast and sea as an enabler for outdoor experiential heritage tourism activity, with the deployment of new innovative visitor experience design to enhance the cultural experience of the location while lowering the environmental impact.”

Business opportunities for coastal communities

According to Gerald Hurley, CEO Waterford Chamber: “As the largest business representative organisation in the region, Waterford Chamber is delighted to be partnering on such an important project. This has the potential to unlock the estuary in terms of business opportunities for the coastal communities and will add to Waterford’s extensive tourist offering. The historical significance, the magnificent scenery and the fascinating linkage with Wales is just waiting to be explored and this project will uncover just that.”

Joy Rooney, Portalis Senior Responsible Officer, (SRO), and Lecturer and Researcher in Design at WIT, added, “Portalis builds on over 40 years of research and 10,000 years of shared heritage. Portalis is design led, delivering a unique, compelling new cross-border visitor experience at two key museums and linked coastal community destination experience sites. Highly significant natural and cultural assets provide evidence of Mesolithic, (Early Stone Age), human habitation. As we explore the earliest connections between Welsh and Irish coastal civilizations, this mirrors the multi-agency cross-border partnership now being forged by our contemporary coastal communities into two distinct cross-border networks within the inter-coastal area. In terms of climate change, Portalis will also provide new data and models of best practice, examining the adaptability and resilience within both communities from our earliest times.”

Public archaeology and citizen scientist programmes

Both Irish and Welsh communities are invited to join the Portalis team in discovering and protecting shared cultural and natural heritage, contribute to new research exploring the challenges of coastal climate change through Public Archaeology and Citizen Scientist Programmes, and in doing so, help trace the footsteps of potentially the first journey and cultural connection between Wales and Ireland.

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