Valentia Island in bid for Unesco status

By Shane Harrison
BBC NI Dublin correspondent

  • Published
Bray Head, Valentia IslandImage source, Tourism Ireland
Image caption,
Valentia Island is one of Ireland's most westerly points

The Irish government is to push for Valentia Island to be given Unesco World Heritage status because of its contribution to world telecommunication.

The island is located off County Kerry, in the south west of Ireland.

A transatlantic cable was laid from Valentia to Heart's Content in Newfoundland, Canada, 151 years ago.

The laying of the cable has been described as an extraordinary achievement in its time.

Linked to the mainland both by a ferry and by a bridge, the island faces out towards the rock face of Skellig Michael, once a home to monks that now features in Star War movies.

'Putting a man on the moon'

Skellig Michael is one of three Unesco World Heritage sites on the island; the others are the Giant's Causeway and the Brú na Bóinne site of neolithic tombs at Newgrange, Dowth and Knowth.

Leonard Hobbs, chairman of the Valentia Transatlantic Cable Foundation said laying the cable was "equivalent to putting a man on the moon - that's the level of what they achieved."

Image caption,
The 1686 nautical miles project has been described as extraordinary achievement

It is understood that the 1,686 nautical mile project combined English technology, American commerce and Irish science.

The first successful cable was sent by Queen Victoria to American President James Buchanan, informing him of a peace treaty between Austria and Prussia.

Many people see this development as the beginnings of the world becoming a smaller place.

"Sometimes something happens that propels globalisation to heights that no one could ever have conceived," said Yale University's Professor Jeffrey Garten on a recent visit to Valentia Island.

"This is one of those, because it sped up communication in a way that no one could have imagined."

Image source, Tourism Ireland
Image caption,
The lighthouse on Valentia Island

Unesco heritage expert Professor Alexander Gillespie from New Zealand's University of Waikato said winning Unesco status would considerably boost the islands tourism potential.

A comparable site in Germany attracts one million visitors every year, he told a conference.

The Irish government said its World Heritage Tentative List will not formally re-open for new candidate sites until 2020.

However, it has told the BBC that it "has formally notified Unesco of Ireland's intention to advance the Valentia proposal with our counterparts in Canada".

"This reflects the same approach by the United Kingdom authorities when they provided UNESCO with similar confirmation in relation to Eamhain Macha (Navan Fort, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland), one of the sites on Ireland's current Tentative List," it said.