Beef farming has been subject to criticism with quotas imposed on production in many instances. This has undermined beef farming, and the practices, knowledge and skills that has been handed down from generation to generation.

Cattle were highly valued in ancient Ireland and are recognised as an important status symbol in traditional societies in many parts of the world.  The incorporation of four native Irish breeds (Droimeann, Irish Moiled, Irish Dexter and Kerry) into the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Ireland provides an opportunity to safeguard these breeds as an important part of Ireland’s cultural heritage. Ireland ratified the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2015. This committed Ireland to establishing a National Inventory for Intangible Cultural Heritage to protect, promote and celebrate Irish living cultural heritage practices, customs, crafts and traditions.  Breed societies associated with four native breeds ((Droimeann, Irish Moiled, Irish Dexter and Kerry) submitted an expression of interest, following an open call, to an Expert Advisory Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage. This resulted in Native Irish Cattle Breeding being included as one of thirty cultural heritage elements approved by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht for inscription in Ireland’s permanent National Inventory in July 2019. Expressions of interest can be submitted on an ongoing basis through a form available online. It provides an opportunity to highlight the value of cattle, and the farming associated practices, in a wider context. For consumers, it aligns with important motivations to continue to eat beef, summarised as the 4 Ns (natural, normal, necessary and nice). It's been normal to produce cattle for thousands of years.

The Convention was ratified in 2015 and the breed societies were registered in 2019.  Once the relevant Ministry had ratified the convention, they would have had to establish a process to produce the National Inventory and appoint an expert group. They would also have had to publicise the initiatives.  Following this, the breed societies would have had to cooperate in making the submission, the expert advisory committee would have had to advise the Minister on the application and the Minister would have had to approve the application. 

The main benefits of this initiative is status given to traditional cattle breeds and the practices associated with their production. It provides an opportunity to build promotional activities based on the recognised brand provided by UNESCO.

Lessons learned from this initiative are: 

  1. There are opportunities to link with highly regarded organisations, brands and initiatives to highlight the value of cattle beyond the production of meat.
  2. Collaborative initiatives amongst different actors provides an opportunity for win-wins for all.
  3. The inclusion of native Irish breeds as an element of Ireland's intangible cultural heritage helps to build farmers appreciation of their sector, and provides a credible verification of the wider benefits of cattle production to society.
  4. Native breeds appear developed to be particularly suited to harsher environments. 


Literature source: Ireland’s National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Author: Maeve Henchion - TEAGASC