A Day in the Life: Gretta Byrne


AWARD WINNING SITE Gretta Byrne, Manager of the Céide Fields Visitor Centre, pictured in 2018 with the prestigous International Carlo Scarpa Trophy, which acknowledged the uniqueness of the heritage site.  Pic: Henry Wills


Name: Gretta Byrne
From: Co Wicklow originally but now living outside Ballycastle
Occupation: Manager, Céide Fields Visitor Centre

At the moment the visitor centre is still closed to the public and myself and the four guide staff are all working from home. When I am at home I work fairly regular hours from 9.30 in the morning until half five or six in the evening with a little bit of flexibility but it is better to keep to a routine.
A lot of the work I can do from home is on emails and on the computer and the phone but I also go to the visitor centre to keep an eye on things and make sure everything is okay. Certain things still have to be done in the building.
Fortunately I live on my own and I am not annoying anyone else and nobody else is interrupting me. I feel quite easy and relaxed at home and it is nice to have the flexibility to eat my lunch in the garden on a nice sunny day.
At the moment I am working on a number of things which take up my time. I also supervise other sites for the Office of Public Works including Carrowmore in Sligo, and Sligo Abbey and Boyle Abbey, and at the moment we are working on trying to get both Carrowmore and the Céide Fields reopened again.
There is a lot of administration and paperwork and training and that kind of thing to be done to get it reopened and it is taking up a lot of time at the moment.
We are hoping to open soon but we haven’t got an exact date yet. We will have to abide by the guidelines and there is a bit of work involved in getting things organised in terms of signage, supplies, training for the staff and developing procedures to operate safely.
I am also working on something which has been ongoing for the last two years. We are in the process of getting an entirely new exhibition in the visitor centre which will be very welcome. The centre opened in 1993 and since then a lot of research has been done and how things are presented have moved on.
There is a lot of new information which we didn’t know 20 or 30 years ago. I am working with the exhibition designers and it is getting to the final stages now so it involves compiling all the graphics and text. It is very time consuming but very exciting. It will be next season before it will be in place but Fáilte Ireland have contributed generously towards it, along with the OPW.
We would get between 30-35,000 visitors a year but it is very seasonal. I’d imagine when we open it will be quieter than normal, especially in the summer with fewer foreign visitors likely to travel. Hopefully we can attract families and people who otherwise would not travel to the Ceide Fields, and they will get an increased appreciation and awareness of our heritage rather than going off lying in the sun on a Spanish beach.
Meeting people and telling them all about the Céide Fields and our wonderful heritage is what we do and what we love to do. For me personally when I go into the visitor centre it feels different and strange to go in and find it totally empty of people and know that there won’t be people coming. That is why I am finding it easier to work at home, it doesn’t feel right but hopefully before too long we will welcome more people.

Beautiful place
I am extremely lucky to be living just outside Ballycastle in a beautiful place with a big garden and less than 2km from the beach. In the last few years the Wild Atlantic Way has brought more people travelling along the coast. We have noticed a lot more camper vans and motorbikers and it certainly has been a help. Every inch of the Céide coast is spectacular and a lot of people don’t realise that.
I grow dozens of vegetables all grown organically. It is a great hobby and I get great pleasure out of it in both the work of growing them and even just looking at them in the morning and of course cooking and eating them. I know what I’m eating and it is not full of chemicals and not after travelling halfway across the planet. It is certainly good for you.
I grew up on a farm and growing vegetables was something my mother was very interested in. I suppose it was in my blood but in the last couple of months since lockdown I have appreciated it more having heard what other people are going through. Compared to people who are stuck in cities and towns without even a tiny garden, I feel very lucky to be able to go out in the garden and spend all day out there.
Archeology is something I was always fascinated by. Where I grew up there was a dolmen and I used to pass by it every day when travelling to school. At school we learned it was from thousands of years ago and I used to wonder how do they know that … that fascinated me more.
I started in 1981 as a young student of Seamus Caulfield and came down as a volunteer to work on his excavation in Belderrig. Working as a volunteer on the excavation got me going and fired up my imagination. We could never have dreamed of anything like this when we started first. It is astounding to think about it these years later. I have been very lucky to live here and discover all these things.

In conversation with Anton McNulty

Quickfire questions

If money was no object what would you do all day?
In one sense I probably wouldn’t do a lot different than what I do now. Maybe I would have more time to walk our lovely hills or further afield.

Most unusual thing you have eaten?
In South America, I ate guinea pig on an island in Lake Titicaca. I was in a food market in China and they were cooking scorpion and sea horses and I stood there for a while looking at them contemplating trying it but I didn’t.

Favourite place you have visited?
Iceland, it is a spectacular country.

What makes you nervous?
Standing up in front of people talking even though I have to do it quite a bit.

Name three celebrities you would invite to your Zoom party?
Nell McCafferty, Neil Oliver and Michael Harding.

Best advice you got?
If I’m nervous about doing something I tell myself, just do it.

Three things always in your fridge?
Cheese, sheeps natural yogurt which is made locally and my own homemade chutney.

Most prized possession?
My house and my garden.

First hero?
My mother, Maureen.

Sum up the coronavirus in three words?
Scary, transformative, eye-opening.

Last book you read?
The Way Home by Mark Boyle, he described living for a year without any modern technology.