The names of fields can tell us much about our local area; how people related to the landscape, as well as the history and traditions of the area.
Since 2018, several community groups across Westmeath have taken part in the Westmeath Field Names Recording Project to collect field names in their area. All of the field names collected are being uploaded to https://meitheal.logainm.ie/westmeath-field-names/. Some very interesting results are emerging.
Project coordinator Aengus Finnegan has been analysing the results to date. Interestingly, many of the Irish names collected in 2018-19, 80 years on, were not recorded in the 1937/8 Schools’ Folklore Collection. This suggests that a great many Irish-language field names went unrecorded in 1937/8 and underlines the importance of the living tradition, and the pressing need to record these names now.
A desktop survey was carried out under Westmeath Heritage Plan 2018-2023; Action 2.1 ‘Address knowledge gap in existing survey of heritage by implementing a programme of research and surveys…’ and the Westmeath Biodiversity Action Plan 2014-2020 Priority Actions: 1. ‘Identify core Nature Conservation Sites’, 2. ‘Identify Nature Development Areas where opportunity for habitat improvement exists’ and 39. ‘Establish a site inventory of important geological and natural heritage sites outside of designated areas in Westmeath’.
This project was funded by the Heritage Council, the National Biodiversity Action Plan Grant Scheme, DCHG and Westmeath County Council. Ecologist George Smith was contracted to carry out this desk-based survey to map wetland sites in the county (lakes, watercourses, springs, bogs, fens, bog woodland, riparian and wet woodland etc.). The survey was based on cartographic and aerial photographic sources, as well as the Map of Irish Wetlands (MIW) (Wetland Surveys Ireland, 2019), the Westmeath Fen Survey (2007) and Westmeath Peatland survey (2001).
The Wetland survey provides up-to-date primary data on 493 wetland sites in the County, which cover c. 17% of the land area of Westmeath. The survey identified 51 wetland sites of county value for biodiversity conservation. The report outlined the threats to wetland sites in Westmeath, which include drainage and reclamation for agriculture; peat extraction, water pollution and invasive species. Several practical recommendations for the conservation of wetlands and priorities for future research are outlined in the report.
It is available below and in the Local Studies Section of the Library.
With additional text as follows: In 2020 Blackthorn Ecology was engaged to survey 12 of the sites that were identified as wetlands of County Value in the desktop study. Field survey was funded by NPWS, Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, under their National Biodiversity Action Plan Grant Scheme, with support from Westmeath County Council. Of the 12 sites surveyed, four were considered to be of County/National Value for Biodiversity, two of County Value and one was confirmed to be an extinct wetland (no wetland habitat remaining). Interestingly, new populations of two rare plant species were found at two sites. The species in question are round-leaved wintergreen and varnished hook moss. Both of these species are considered Near Threatened in Ireland.
The first focused survey of Barn Owls in Westmeath was carried out by BirdWatch Ireland in 2021, with funding from the National Biodiversity Action Plan Grant Scheme from National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Housing Local Government and Heritage and Westmeath County Council. The survey identified fourteen sites occupied by Barn Owls and six successful breeding pairs in Westmeath. The survey results have informed conservation measures that were undertaken in 2022.
Industrial heritage reflects the connection between the cultural and natural environment and is part of our social history. In 2019 a project to record the Industrial Heritage of Westmeath was carried out under Action 2.1 of The Westmeath Heritage Plan; addressing gaps in existing datasets (few industrial heritage sites are recorded in National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH) and Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) for Westmeath). Recording the Industrial Heritage was also an objective of the County Development Plan 2014-2020.
The project was based on a desk-study that referred to historic maps, documentary sources, and meetings with Local Historical Societies. 4,855 industrial heritage sites were identified within the following categories: Transport, Manufacturing, Mills (including distilleries and breweries), Extractive, Complexes and Utilities. Seven industrial heritage sites were selected for further examination and are intended as an example of how to use the database for future research. The sites chosen were: Athlone Woollen Mills, Athlone Workhouse, Gneevebane Limestone Quarry, Locke’s Distillery, Moate Textile Mills, Mullingar Railway Station, and Multyfarnham Corn Mills.
The inventory data has been made available to the Planning Section and the report is a reference document that can inform and prioritise future work on the industrial heritage of the county. The report is available in the Local Studies Section of the Library and at the link's below:
In 2020 a sample of 10 Industrial Heritage Sites in Westmeath were surveyed. The survey was funded by the Heritage Council and Westmeath County Council. You can read the survey report below.
In mid-January 2018 a laser survey of the Bealin High Cross, Twyford, near Athlone was carried out by Digital Heritage Age. The survey was an action of the Westmeath Heritage Plan, funded by Westmeath Co. Council.
A new interactive digital model of Bealin High cross available to view on Bealin High Cross
Digital Heritage Age have also done some digital modelling of Sheela-na-gigs in Westmeath. These can be viewed here
Barrows are prehistoric burial sites, typically defined by a circular ditch surrounding a mound and/or a bank. They date from the Bronze Age (c.2,5000 -700 BC) through to the Iron Age (c.700 BC – AD 400) (i.e. c. 4,500 – 1,500 years ago). County Westmeath has one of the largest concentrations of barrows in Ireland with some fine examples at Frewyn hill (near Lough owel), Coolvuck (near Athlone), Slanemore and the hill of Usnagh. A county-wide archaeological survey of these barrows was undertaken during 2011-2015, funded by Westmeath County Council through the Heritage Forum.
The survey was carried out by Dr David McGuinness and the late Professor Michael Herity M.R.I.A, with assistance from Peter Wallace, Seamus O’Brien, David and Angela Clarke and the late Tommy Cassidy. The results of the survey have significantly added to our knowledge about barrows in Westmeath, with the discovery of several new examples and re-classification of several others that had previously been thought to be ringforts.
The completed reports on the survey can be accessed here and are being made available for researchers in the local studies section of the County Library.
An audit of Geological Heritage Sites in Westmeath was carried out by Geologists Robert Meehan, Ronan Hennessy, Matthew Parkes and Siobhan Power, funded by the Heritage Council with support from Westmeath County Council. A desktop study of the County Geological sites (CGS) informed a programme of field work, during which the Geologists visited each CGS across the county. The Full Report and survey reports on each of the County Geological sites (28) can be accessed here and a hard copy of the report is available in the local studies section of the library.
BirdWatch Ireland was contracted to undertake a survey of the swift population in the county in the summer of 2018. Swifts are a migratory bird that are of significant conservation concern in Ireland and elsewhere. The survey was funded by the Westmeath Heritage Office with help from the Heritage Council and the Local Agenda 21 Fund. Anton Krastev and/or Ricky Whelan from BirdWatch Ireland carried out the survey. They surveyed localities for nesting swifts and found nesting swifts in roughly 1/3 of localities monitored.
In the autumn of 2018, BirdWatch Ireland compiled a final report as part of the project. The report lists all the areas surveyed and sets out in great detail the sites of each nest site found.
A number of follow up actions have taken place and more are planned for the coming months and years and BirdWatch Ireland, with its Westmeath branch volunteers, is committed to working with Westmeath County Council and local stakeholders to ensure nesting swifts have a future in Westmeath.
County Swift Survey: