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Exploring Ireland and Wales’s early connections

UWTSD has announced that funding has been secured to help deliver Portalis, a new cross-border, transdisciplinary pilot project that will explore the earliest connection between Ireland and Wales.

The €1.95 million project aims to raise awareness, and support sustainable engagement, resulting in the establishment of two new experiential tourism and cultural cross-border networks 

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. This will be 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.

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. 

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“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, said: “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.”

Supported by €1.5m from the European Regional Development Fund, through the Ireland Wales Cooperation programme, the project will be led by Waterford Institute of Technology, supported by UWTSD, 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.

The 20-month pilot project starting this month 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.

Dr Jeremy Smith, Assistant Dean of the Institute of Education and Humanities at UWTSD said: “We are thrilled to be partners on Portalis. 

“Our Archaeology department, based in Lampeter, conducts world-leading research and Portalis presents a valued opportunity to further strengthen this work as we collaborate with project partners to explore the earliest connections between Welsh and Irish coastal civilisations”.

Professor Martin Bates, Lead Academic on the project at UWTSD said: “This is a wonderful opportunity, leading teams on both sides of the Irish Sea, to really get to grips with some of the landscapes of our early ancestors who came back to Wales at the end of the last Ice Age. 

“At UWTSD we have been working on these stories for a number of years and the funding will allow us to get this story across to locals and visitors alike.”

Councillor Catherine Hughes, Cabinet Member for Porth Gofal, Early Intervention, Wellbeing Hubs and Culture said: “Ceredigion County Council is delighted to be partnering on the Portalis project. It will give Ceredigion Museum a unique opportunity to explore the lives and environment of some of the earliest people to inhabit our Welsh and Irish coastlines, a heritage that will be shared through a combination of ground-breaking archaeology and state of the art displays”

Dr Suzanne Denieffe, Head of School of Humanities at WIT commented, “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.”

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.