In the last post I discussed the categories of cultural heritage that have been recognised in Irish law. These categories represent the material cultural heritage and are the subject of official government surveys and inventories. They are routinely examined in the course of pre-development impact assessments. In addition to the material there are the non-material or living manifestations of cultural heritage that are refered to as the intangible cultural heritage. This living cultural heritage is inherited and passed on by people as individuals and groups and represented by the tacit dimensions of learning and skill. While this cultural knowledge can be described in words it can only be adequately transferred to others through close personal contact. Examples of individual tacit skills are the abilities to make Curach boats or make and play Uilleann Pipes. These are skills that cannot be adequately described in writing but require a process of apprenticeship to fully learn. Tacit knowledge can also be embodied in individuals and groups in the form of team sports like Hurling or Rugby or played out in the course of marriage and death rituals. Intangible cultural heritage can be held collectively by groups in the form of a language like Irish, or a dialect like Hiberno-English, whose vocabulary can be set down in a dictionary but whose fluency can only be mastered after time spent in the course of communication.
In 2003 UNESCO recognised the intangible cultural heritage in the “Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage”. The Convention defines the intangible cultural heritage widely and includes practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and skills, as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated with communities, groups and individuals. The Convention recognises that the forms of cultural heritage include oral traditions, expressions and language, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events and knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe and traditional craftsmanship.
The Convention calls for the identification of the intangible cultural heritage through the preparation of national inventories and the designation of competent national bodies for its safeguarding. The Convention established a representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity which currently has 123 entries ranging from the Kumiodori, the traditional Okinawan musical theatre of Japan, to the traditional art of Azerbaijani carpet weaving. UNESCO also has a list of intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding which includes 232 elements ranging from the Qiang New Year festival in China to the Ojkanje singing of Croatia. To date 134 out of 192 of the nations of the world have ratified the Convention.
Ireland has many examples of intangible cultural heritage ranging from language and dialect, to sports, festivals, music, traditional crafts and foods. Some would merit inclusion on the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. However, Ireland, to date, has not ratified the Convention and has had no items of intangible cultural heritage inscribed.
Cite this post as:
Mount, C. What about the intangible cultural heritage of Ireland? The Charles Mount Blog, May 18, 2011. http://charles-mount.ie/wp/?p=15