Canada seeks Unesco World Heritage status for Valentia Island

Canada is taking a lead role in seeking Unesco World Heritage status for a residential Irish island.

Valentia
Archive image from Valentia Island Cable Station.

A Canadian Ministerial Advisory Committee is urging the Government here to include the former transatlantic cable station on Valentia Island in Kerry in Ireland’s list of Tentative World Heritage Sites, as part of a linked bid between both countries.

In 1866, the first successful transatlantic telegraph cable link was laid stretching over 3,000km between Knightstown station on Valentia and Newfoundland, Canada.

The Victorian cable was the foundation of the digital age and its provision had reduced the time taken for transatlantic communications from two weeks to just two minutes.

Much of the cable infrastructure, including the building which transmitted the first cable message between Queen Victoria and America’s president James Buchanan, remains intact.

Since 2013, discussions regarding a trans-boundary nomination for Unesco World Heritage status have been ongoing between the provincial government in Newfoundland, local campaigners in Valentia, Kerry County Council and Unesco offices in Dublin and Ottowa.

Promoters are insisting there are few world sites of “industrial heritage” of the stature of Valentia.

The anniversary of the link, in 2016 was celebrated either side of the Atlantic.

The cable station at Heart’s Content is now a Canadian national treasure.

Newfoundland’s Minister of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation, Christopher Mitchelmore has committed to working with “our Irish partners in Kerry County and Dublin” in advancing the nomination.

In a statement, the Ministerial Advisory Committee for the Update of Canada’s Tentative List for World Heritage Sites said: “The Heart’s Content Cable Station Provincial Historic Site, together with its sister site in Valentia, Republic of Ireland, meets World Heritage’s high standard of universal value with respect to its cultural heritage values.

“The Committee encourages the Government of the Republic of Ireland to consider inclusion of Valentia on its Tentative List for World Heritage sites.”

However, our Department of Heritage, Culture and the Gaeltacht is not expected to update Ireland’s Tentative List before 2020.

Skellig Michael, also off the coast of Kerry, and Brú na Bóinne in Co Meath are currently Ireland’s only designated World Heritage Sites.

Anthony O’Connell, chairman of the Valentia Island Development Company, said: “Valentia Island is a community suffering from a declining population and limited job opportunities in the region.

“It is fitting a second World Heritage site in Kerry, focusing on global communications, would be within twelve miles of the Skelligs World Heritage site where monks communicated with a higher being.

“The Skelligs can only be accessed for a limited period of time each year while Valentia Island is accessible year-round,” he said.

Leonard Hobbs, chairman of the Transatlantic Cable World Heritage Board, said the new development in Canada warrants “special consideration” for Valentia to be fast-tracked onto a tentative list.

“This would be Ireland’s first and only transnational site, and the first and only industrial heritage site for Ireland to be considered for Unesco World Heritage status.”

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