Unesco World Heritage Sites

The objective of this designation is the protection of the world’s natural and cultural marvels. The world heritage site is an international designation with very demanding objectives, since such sites are considered unique in the world and need special protective measures. They are areas of global natural and or cultural significance, nominated by the state within which they are situated, the nominations are then considered by a world heritage committee of party states. Sites that are accepted are placed on the world heritage list. World heritage sites must have strict legal protection and any management of the site must ensure that this continues.

The World Heritage Convention was adopted by UNESCO in 1972 and came into force in 1976. The Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht is the responsible authority in Ireland and under the 1972 convention must protect designated sites including providing adequate staff and resources for conservation, development of scientific and technical studies and research to counteract threats, provision of appropriate legal, scientific, technical, administration and financial measures to identify, protect, conserve and rehabilitate sites.

The department does this under the workings of the National Monuments Acts (1985) and the Local Government (Planning and Development) Acts.


Natural Heritage Sites

Ireland’s first natural heritage site on the world heritage list was the Burren, County Clare. Such sites are defined as natural features consisting of physical and biological formations or groups of such formations, which are of outstanding universal value from the aesthetic or scientific point of view.
Natural heritage sites must conform to the criteria established in Article 2 of the convention and UNESCO’s operational guidelines which include:

  1. The site must be an outstanding example representing major stages of earth’s history, including the records of life, significant on going geological processes in the development of landforms, significant geomorphic or physiographic features.
  2. Be an outstanding example representing significant on going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants.
  3. Contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.
  4. Contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation      of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

Cultural Heritage Sites

Ireland’s first cultural heritage site was the Boyne Valley which includes the archaeological complex of Newgrange, Dowth and Nowth. To be included on the world heritage list cultural sites must satisfy the selection criteria established in Article 1 of the Convention and UNESCO’s operational guidelines which include:

  1. The site must represent a masterpiece of human creative genius or exhibit an important interchange of human values over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world.
  2. Bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition.
  3. Be an outstanding example of a type of building or architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates significant stage(s) in human history
  4. Be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement or land use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.
  5. Be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance