I was in Clonmel, County Tipperary today, still on the travel book shoot, and I went into the impressive "Main Guard" building, which was constructed in 1675, as a jail house. The building, like so many Heritage Sites in Ireland, is under the auspices of The Office of Public Works (OPW).
The OPW's own website explains that "On 1st January 2004 the operational functions of Ireland’ built heritage functions transferred to the Office of Public Works (OPW). In essence, the OPW now has responsibility for the day-to-day running of all National Monuments and Historic Properties. Many millions of Irish people and foreign visitors visit the heritage sites each year to learn something of Ireland’s history and heritage...With regard to Heritage Services, the primary concern of the OPW is to protect and maintain Ireland’s heritage for future generations."
For the 5th time in succession, on this travel book commission, and after explaining myself to the very polite gentleman behind the desk in the Main Guard, and showing him my press pass (which he asked to see) - I was refused permission to to take photographs inside the building itself. I was told that I needed to make prior arrangements to take the photographs, show my insurance certificate indemnifying the OPW against "public liability" damage, and confirm that I would not be using the photographs for commercial purposes (which was difficult as a travel book is a commercial purpose), and especially not making postcards out of the shots!
What makes it more galling for me is that I did contact the OPW right at the start of this project, over two months ago, but I was unable to give precise details of what I wanted to shoot and when. But, I did offer to send my insurance details. Another annoying facet is that I'm photographing for one of the world's leading travel guide book publishers - and it puzzles me as to why the OPW would not jump at the chance to see their Heritage Sites in those books.
Add to that the fact that several tourists with cameras passed me in the building - and many of the other OPW Heritage sites (such as Newgrange) that I was refused permission to photograph - and snapped away to their hearts content, and you might appreciate my sense of frustration.
Other important Irish national monuments and landmark sites - notably Powerscourt House and Gardens in County Wicklow - who welcomed me with open arms, last week, when I turned up unannounced and simply showed the staff a letter from the publisher. I was given free information leaflets - and postcards - and a member of the team spent ten minutes outlining the history of the house to me, and pointed out all the best vantage points from which to take photographs. They were warm, welcoming, open, friendly and not at all suspicious of my motives nor precious of the fact that photographs of their magnificent building and gardens may be used in a commercial venture (or at least, a world-class travel guide book).
My experience of the OPW, sadly, is quite the reverse. I have found them to be suspicious, unwelcoming and unnecessarily officious. Why, I have absolutely no idea. But if anyone from the OPW should see this: rest assured that you are losing important opportunities to promote your Heritage Sites - and the officiousness is very 1970's.