Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A CARLOW scientist and author has been honoured with a lifetime achievement award for decades of extensive study on Ireland’s cultural and industrial heritage.

Dr Michael Conry of Chapelstown received the prestigious award at the Industrial Heritage Association of Ireland’s annual ceremony in ESB’s head office, East Wall Road, Dublin.

A respected soil scientist by profession, he has published nine books on industrial heritage issues and has always been highly regarded by his peers for his generosity in sharing his knowledge, expertise and experience.

Dr Fred Hamond, Dr Dermot O’Dwyer, vice-president of the IHAI, Dr Michael Conry and Jim Dollard, director of the ESB

Industrial archaeologist Dr Fred Hammond lauded the Carlow writer and gave a brief background of his esteemed colleague.

A native of Tulsk, Co Roscommon, Dr Conry graduated with a degree in agricultural science from UCD in 1958. He embarked on a career with An Foras Taluntais (now Teagasc), first in Wexford and then at Oak Park, Carlow. He also obtained a master’s at Ghent University and PhD from Trinity.

He was elected a fellow of the Institute of Soil Scientists and served as a member of the Heritage Council, among many other achievements and accolades.

For the past 30 years or so, he had focused his attention on studying various aspects of Ireland’s cultural and industrial heritage,” said Dr Hammond. “He had the foresight to study unusual subjects which had hitherto been neglected, such as the production of fuel made from culm in Castlecomer, the exploitation of granite in Co Carlow, the Carlow fence, picking bilberries, animal-powered churning and the rabbit industry.”

Dr Hammond said Dr Conry had interviewed thousands of people during this time.

As Dr Colin Rynne said when commending Michael for his book on Carlow granite at the 2010 Awards: ‘One can only gasp in awe at the meticulous fieldwork which must have gone into this book.’ It is important to appreciate that had Michael not interviewed these people, their knowledge would have been lost forever, as there are often few, if any, physical remains or official records of such activities.”

Dr Conry said he was surprised but delighted to receive the award. He said his interest in the subject stemmed from his time as a PhD student under the guidance of Professor Frank Mitchell.

He was an extraordinary man. He was passionate about preserving Ireland’s heritage in all its aspects, both cultural and industrial. I spent a number of years with him, and because I did, his interest rubbed off on me and that’s how I got started.”

When he arrived in Carlow in 1962, Dr Conry found many Carlow artefacts to research.

Everybody in Carlow knew what they were but nobody had written about them, like the Carlow fence and the column crushing. I started off very modestly with the column crushers and it just went from there. The first book I wrote was 28 pages but the last book on the rabbit industry … that was 528 pages. The books got bigger and bigger as I went along!”

For Dr Conry, the highlight of his work was meeting and talking to the countless people whose information was vital for his work.

The highlight was meeting the plain people of Ireland, who provided me with the information, and not only that but hospitality as well. That would be the highlight of my career. I met some wonderful people across Ireland.”

Aged 82, Dr Conry said he would be taking a step away from writing books at would now be looking at family genealogy and history.

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By Michael Tracey
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