TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowen joined his younger brother councillor Barry Cowen on their first official function together since Cllr Cowen was elected cathaoirleach of Offaly County Council last week.
The Taoiseach launched the Rahan monastic site conservation plan at the 800-year-old church of St Carthage, just outside Tullamore, early on Saturday morning. The event was attended by four Cistercian monks, who performed a medieval chant at the beginning of the ceremony.
Making his apologies for being a few minutes late, the Taoiseach joked that he had obviously developed bad habits since his days in the Cistercian College in Roscrea, when he would never have dared to be late.
He also pointed out how ironic it was to have come from the "hallowed halls of Brussels" the day before to the simple beauty of the church of St Carthage, especially in view of how European civilisation had been saved by monks from places like St Carthage's monastery in Rahan.
The Taoiseach went on to joke that the Rahan monastic site conservation plan was "very readable - unlike the Lisbon Treaty".
"Rahan monastic site is a wonderful example of a monument which is an important element of both our national and European heritage. It is of immense local importance to the archaeological and architectural heritage of this historic county.
"This beautiful church is a physical legacy of the church reforms of the 12th century. It displays evidence of our cosmopolitan past, where art and architecture were influenced by other areas in western Europe and Scandinavia. It also shows, through its stone carvings, how Ireland adapted these influences to create its own unique style."
James Howley, of Howley Hayes Architects, who is overseeing the restoration project, said the church of St Carthage was a remarkable building by any standards, national or international.
"It was built over 800 years ago and still fulfils its original function as a place of divine worship."
The Taoiseach added he was greatly encouraged by the level of community enthusiasm for heritage projects in Offaly.