Sarah McCarthy

Sarah McCarthyI was born in Galway in the west of Ireland but grew up in a village on the outskirts of Dublin, at the foot of the Dublin hills. A lot of my childhood was spent singing in choirs and exploring, by bike, the rapidly-expanding suburbs that were engulfing the city. During extended holidays in the West I had the opportunity to explore a different type of life and landscape – that of fields, livestock, stone walls, mountains, rivers and coral beaches, of fishing and farming communities – increasingly providers of tourist services.

My first degree was in Communication Studies – an exciting romp through the theory and practice of how, to whom and to what end we attempt to communicate with each other. Although that was a few years ago now, I have not forgotten the basic tenet – that we do not and cannot communicate in a vacuum: Communication is a discursive, two-way rather than a didactic, one-way process.

A timely present of a recent translation of the medieval tale Táin Bó Cuailnge, the Cattle Raid of Cooley, inspired my final year project. Assisted by several of my classmates, including Ardal O’Hanlon, now well-known as Dougal in the TV comedy series, Father Ted, and some willing interviewees, I made a drama-documentary exploring the mythological and archaeological world of the oldest vernacular epic in Western Europe. Landscape would never be the same again.

I then spent a couple of years in Germany, working in bars and hotels and learning how to build bicycles, and returned to Ireland with fluent German. I trained as a tourist guide, attaining approval and certification as a National Tour Guide in 1993. Thus began my career in engaging all shapes and sizes of visitor with all aspects of life in Ireland. For over twelve years that kept me occupied in the spring and summer so I looked for interesting things to do in the winter. The mountains of Wicklow, Kerry and Galway provided superb map and compass skills development and a marketing course curiously gave me a healthy respect for economic politics. At a winter seminar on the karst landscape of the Burren, the poet Dara Beag O’Faharta encouraged me to come to his island, Inis Meáin, one of the Aran Islands, to improve my Irish. I spent two winters there, learning the rhythms, patterns and enormity of life on a small windswept island as well as perfecting the art of pouring a pint of Guinness.

To formalise my proficiency in German and growing familiarity with Ireland’s historic landscape, I went back to university to do a BA in German and Archaeology. Courtesy of a scholarship, I spent a wonderfully stimulating year at the University of Freiburg. An MA in Public Archaeology at UCL combined my experience and interests in communications, tourism and archaeology. A growing concern with how the portrayal and perception of archaeology impacts on the conservation, preservation and use of the historic environment led me to do a PhD, also at UCL.

While at UCL, I began working with Prince Research Consultants, a small but dynamic cultural heritage consultancy based in London. This took me into the realms of conservation management, interpretive planning, exhibition design and delivery – both overseas and in the UK.

After a decade enjoying all that London has to offer, I moved to North Wales and worked with the National Trust on two European-funded heritage tourism projects, as Project Manager and Visitor Experience Consultant. I am now working freelance with a number of companies as a Project Manager/Heritage Consultant and, since December 2014, as the Development Manager for the LRG.

I still live in North Wales – in the heart of Snowdonia – indulging my enduring passions for photography, hiking, cycling and engaging with the landscapes around me. I might not be practicing archaeology anymore but a new-found flair for DIY and gardening keeps me rooted and booted.

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