Poignant letters from the late iconic figures Gay Byrne and Seamus Heaney included in "20-20 Vision" project focusing on nature conservation and the future.

A time capsule, buried in 1996, has been unearthed at a Dublin primary school containing letters, including those from Gay Byrne and Seamus Heaney, along with audio interviews, newspaper cuttings, school projects on global warming and ecology, and photographs. 

Loreto Primary School (Elementary), in Rathfarnham, south Dublin, dug up a time capsule buried by students in 1996, as part of the "20-20 Vision" project, carried out across Europe. Other schools will, over the coming weeks, open their own time capsule.

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The "20-20 Vision" project was initiated that was jointly organized by the United Kingdom and Ireland as part of the European Nature Conservation Year 1995.

The capsule unearthed in Rathfarnham contained letters from people including Seamus Heaney and Gay Byrne, as well as each child's vision for 2020; an audiotape of interviews with various people comparing the 1970s with 1995 and looking ahead to 2020; newspaper cuttings from the 1970s and 1995; school projects on recycling, global warming, greenhouse effect, and pollution; photographs of the school and of the participants; and information on endangered animals.

Gay Bryne, who sadly passed away in November 2019 after a long battle with cancer, wrote a poignant and imaginative note to the students at Loreto.

A letter from Gay Byrne for the "20-20 Vision" project.

A letter from Gay Byrne for the "20-20 Vision" project.

He wrote:

"With the climate changes we're experiencing now by 2020 we'll be growing Mediterranean fruit and vegetables and Ireland will be a little paradise island in the Northern Atlantic.

"Cars will be banned in Dublin City and LUAS will be the only city transport. 

"Cancer, heart disease, diabetes and AIDS will be diseases with cures and we'll all be living longer. 

"With this week's Budget, and Ruari Quinn's 'booming economy' - Ireland's population will have less work, more money circulating and more leisure time. 

"We'll be taking adventure holiday to other planets. 

"We will have found a safe way to 'dump' nuclear waste. [sic]"

Seamus Heaney's letter includes a "stanza from a chorus" in his play "The Cure of Troy". Heaney writes "This stanza has been quoted often, most recently by President Clinton, but before that by President Robinson, and that makes me very proud. It goes like this:

'History says, Don't hope 

On this side of the grave, 

But then, once in a lifetime,

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up

And hope and history rhyme.'"

A letter by Seamus Heaney from the "20-20 Vision".

A letter by Seamus Heaney from the "20-20 Vision".

The Principal of Loreto Primary School, Grange Road, Sister Maria Hyland commented: “There was great excitement at the school this morning as the contents of the time capsule were revealed. The children were very curious to find out how their counterparts imagined the world in which they now live.

"We were also delighted to welcome back past pupils who took part in the project 25 years ago, and to hear about their memories and recollections of their involvement in the project.”

Then and now! A 1996 time capsule has been opened.

Then and now! A 1996 time capsule has been opened.

The "20-20 Vision" encouraged students to think about their environment then (in 1996), to consider what had happened to it over the previous 25 years, and to predict how it might change over the following 25 years by 2020. Suggested topics for discussion included plants, wildlife and water; different styles of transport and their effects on the environment; and recycling habits.

In all, 72 Irish schools and one scout troop took part in the project, which was organized in Ireland by the then Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (now Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht). Students “buried” their time capsules on Feb 1, 1996.

Speaking about the National Library’s role in the project, the NLI’s Director, Dr Sandra Collins said: “The National Library is Ireland’s memory-keeper – a kind of time capsule of Ireland’s story which is being added to every day, and where the information is always available. We protect and care for more than 10 million items, and for more than 20 years this has included the schools’ time capsule registration forms.

"We are very excited to be involved in this cross-generational project. Our Learning team, who engage with schools around the country on a wide variety of activities every year, is working with schoolchildren and teachers to offer tips and advice on the process of documenting the contents of their capsules, and on how they can be kept safe and in good condition.”

If you were to make a 20-20 Vision time capsule what would you include? Let us know in the comments section below. 

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