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By Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

There was a wonderful summation of Ireland’s passed boom years, by David McWilliams, in the Irish Independent recently and I think that it’s worth quoting it here, in full, to show one local economist’s view of what went on behind the more obvious, on-stage action;

Do you remember only a few years ago all the blather about how our young people and our superior demographics would ensure that Ireland achieved a soft landing? Do you remember government ministers urging people giddily to get “on the ladder”? Holding the ladder was usually a builder or auctioneer, who was making a fortune, and some bank manager who threw borrowed money at these first time buyers like confetti.

The bank manager’s Christmas bonus was based on how much money he stuffed into the pockets of the first-time buyer which went straight to the builder, who in many cases wrote cheques for cabinet ministers in corporate donations to a party the builders knew would support them all the way.

And who paid? Well, the young of course. They paid by buying over-expensive shoeboxes and they are paying even more via unemployment. This unemployment ensures that the demand for the extra thousands of shoeboxes that were built in the boom will not be there. Therefore, the negative equity many are suffering will simply get worse as house prices continue to plummet in 2010.”

I covered some of the same ground in an article last August, with, perhaps, a little less of McWilliams’ light style;

“Everybody must be aware, at this stage, of the calamitous crash of Ireland’s economy. While the whole world has wobbled, but stayed erect, this once golden state has fallen heavily and into a hole of its own excavation.

The much-praised ‘tiger’ economy and government funding-model would now seem to have been based, for the last number of years and largely, on constructing and swapping houses, for progressively greater amounts of cheap, borrowed money. New roads and motorways helped to bring new areas into the city hinterlands, areas that then ‘needed’ more houses, which then, obviously, needed more roads. People became, notionally, very wealthy, but only as long as a platform of confidence remained. Once interest rates rose and house prices dropped, this began to be pulled away.”

I’m quoting these two passages, really, to give some example of the force that exists behind the visible action in the country and its economy, or rather, if I can use the image of a Venetian masquerade, the distinction between face and mask; between what we are told by the media, in all forms, and what is. How it potentially influences our attitudes, opinions and behaviour. The bold letters, in each case, are to draw attention to the most relevant sentences in this respect.

Of course, our immediate concerns, Heritage and the buried past of these islands, are tightly woven into the fabric of the economy. Particularly so in Ireland, where construction on previously ‘green’ land and conflict with heritage interests, were such a prominent feature of our ‘boom’. In the most recent issue of the Heritage Council magazine (Winter 2009/Spring 2010), Dr. Simon Burke discusses the results of his analysis of heritage content in Irish newspapers and, although the article itself, beautifully written, should be read in its entirety, I will set out five of his more notable findings here:

1. The initial terms used, by the newspapers, of ‘builder’ or ’speculator’ changed over time to the more impressive ‘developer’, then ’property developer’. Indeed, you can note the continued reference to it, in this late, recessionary ebb, as the construction ’industry’.

2. Real heritage objects were frequently represented as ‘threatening’ merely notional development proposals.

3. Development proposals were, conversely, always treated as real objects, that is; ‘the new road/ housing estate/ port’, as opposed to ‘the proposed’.

4. Only 348 distinct claims were made about heritage in the 1190 heritage texts and 952 separate subjects analysed, and the 23 most frequently made claims – the majority favourable to development – were made an average of 26 times each. He suggests that such repetition served to; “naturalise them and make them appear reasonable.”

5. Most heritage texts related to ‘events’ managed by sources representing business or the State. He states that; “73% cited a single source and 93% cited sources representing a single perspective.”

According to recent figures from the National Institute of Regional and Spatial Analysis (Irish Independent 27 Jan 2010), there are now more than 300,000 houses vacant, around Ireland and over 600 “empty and abandoned developments”. These are all developments that would probably have been described, just a few short years ago, as ‘absolutely crucial’ to their area and, naturally, you can only speculate what their cost was, if counted in the devalued currency of local environment and heritage.

Perhaps, at this point, therefore, it might be useful to look at an example of the type of text that can be picked up by the media from developers‘ sources and, because the impending conflict over Bremore is often on my mind, I’ve taken one from the website of Drogheda Port. Remember that container traffic in Ireland is in decline at present and any future pressure on port capacity is both hypothetical and in the medium to long-term. I’ve left a couple of clues, to help in your dissection, again in bold type:

“At an estimated cost of €210 million, the development of Bremore Ireland Port was begun in 2002 by Drogheda Port Company as a strategic response to the impending future deficit in port capacity not only at Drogheda Port but on the east coast of Ireland as a whole. In addition to existing facilities at Drogheda and Dublin, Bremore will offer additional choice to Irelands importers and exporters.

The new deepwater port will have 24 hour marine access with facilities to accommodate new short sea shipping services to the United Kingdom, Europe, Scandinavia and the Baltic states, to include Lo-Lo, Ro-Ro and passenger traffics. Bremore will have the deepest berths on the east coast of Ireland.”

How can you tell what is face and what is mask?

Or, if your tendency is, like many of us, not to believe anything you read and to always look for something behind the screen, is there not a danger, occasionally, of ignoring the truth? Sometimes, inevitably, that screen is not a screen, but a face. What then? ‘Wolf?

“Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

From W.B. Yeats; ‘Among School Children’


I feel that I’ve ended by tying myself, not unusually, in a bit of a knot. My fellow HA member, moss, has consented to overlook this tangle and state clearly what we have to focus on;

A final word; We at Heritage Action record and write about heritage protection, but in Ireland we see that the protection of sites is seemingly non-existent. The point of conserving past history is that once a site becomes lost, it is lost for ever – our grandchildren will not inherit their past. Motorway archaeology, records and then destroys. What happens then if we jeopardise whole landscapes to further the temporary upsurge of an economic boom? We have only to look at the Hill of Tara to answer that question, it will be forever despoiled by the motorway that will run through the valley below, there is no going back on this, the noise, the visual intrusion is a permanent feature– Not until the petrol runs dry will we ever be able to get back the peace and quiet.
The proposed Port of Bremore, will follow in exactly the same manner, destruction of the natural ecology, destruction of prehistoric mounds and a quiet place to escape – a whole beautiful landscape must again go under the wheels of the bulldozers

An Taisce’s submission:

http://www.antaisce.ie/builtenvironment/CurrentAppeals/BremorePort/tabid/632/language/en-US/Default.aspx

A guest feature by Albert Resonox

 

The Devil’s Stane looking north-east 

The high wall surrounding The Swallow Hotel (formerly The Greystanes Hotel) Invergowrie, has a break in the north-eastern corner where a spiked iron railing is set around a paddock stone, known locally as The Devil’s Stane. This stone was said to be cursed, a cynical yet effective ploy by the then owners to stop children from climbing through the railings and playing on the stone, though I recall there were some brave souls who did not believe the curse (whether ill-fate was theirs… I’m afraid I can’t say!). The use of this stone pre-dates Christianity but the name alludes to a Christian legend, first mooted by Archbishop John Spottiswoode (1565 – 1639).  The general gist of the legend is as follows…
 

In 697 AD, Saint Boniface was erecting, what is rumoured to have been the first Christian chapel north of the Tay, the devil  however was walking by the river on the Fife shore when he spotted this activity, seeking to destroy the building he plucked an enormous boulder and flung it across the mighty river.  God decided to protect his beloved saint and his works, and caused the stone to fly over half a mile beyond its target where it landed at its present site. This enraged his satanic majesty even more, so plucking an even larger boulder he flung again at the holy target, but this time the almighty stayed the flight of this projectile causing it to land in the waters of the Tay. The ensuing waves splashed the river’s waters against the devil’s legs causing immense pain and he fled back to his domain leaving Saint Boniface to finish his sacred works unhindered.

At low tide there is a large mound of rock visible in the river which is affectionately known as Whale Rock because of its resemblance to said mammal. There were also two other large stones by what was asserted to be the ruins of the ancient chapel which were known as The Goors Of Gowrie, and they were the subject of a prophecy by self-styled seer Thomas of Ercildoune (aka Tam The Rhymer).

“When The Goors O’ Gowrie come to land,
     The Day Of Judgement is at hand.”

The construction of the railway to Perth did indeed bring the stones “to land”, but the predicted final trump never occurred.

 
The Devil’s Stane looking north-east

Historian David Starkey is supporting the campaign to keep the Staffordshire hoard local –

“Archaeological finds don’t come any bigger than this….It’s so important, and the figures – 1,500 objects, 5.5kg of gold – it’s big, big, big…… It must stay here, together and intact, to be studied and displayed here in the West Midlands, the foundation of whose history it will now become.”

Fine, Dr Starkey, 1,500 objects is certainly big, big, big. But what about the other 10.68 million (including vast numbers of marvellous ones no doubt) that metal detectorists have taken home as their own or sold? Shouldn’t archaeologists have had the chance to have seen all those and to have decided whether the best should have been deposited in the local museums for local study and local display for the benefit of the locals whose local history they comprise? Aren’t those objects a vastly bigger bigger bigger part of local (and national) history and shouldn’t you be campaigning for those as well? In most cases they comprise history that hasn’t just been lost to local people but to you and everyone else as well!

We understand your position vis-a-vis local heritage Dr Starkey but what is your position on mass historycide?

We feel he could hardly deny we have a valid – indeed inarguable – case, nor could Margaret Hodge, Minister for Culture and Tourism, who also supports the campaign – “It is only right that it should be kept and displayed here in the West Midlands for future generations to enjoy.” In our submission, and that of most archaeologists and politicians abroad, Britain’s treatment of its archaeological objects is fundamentally wrong – so gross inconsistencies in the public pronouncements of prominent British historians and government ministers are bound to arise in consequence. Is it not time Britain stopped  putting its prominent historians and politicians into embarrassing positions?

____________________________________________________________

Wiltshire metal detecting rally flouts archaeological guidelines

Metal detecting at the end of the noughties: bad just got worse

Metal detecting: a letter to English Heritage

Metal detecting: £3.2 million reward for reporting the Staffordshire hoard should have been £32 million claims detectorist!

Legalised metal detecting? “No thanks, we’re French (and we give a damn about our resource!)” – Official.

Nighthawking: much ado about the wrong thing.

 

Stonehenge. Image credit Heritage Action

“Inspect and photograph (for non-commercial purposes only) the stones closely, and see the inscriptions, including the famous ‘daggers’ believed to date from prehistoric times and wander at will inside the circle…”
 
Walks will be led by  David Dawson and will take place on –
 
10 June – 8.45pm to 9.45pm
14 June – 8.45pm to 9.45pm
  9 July  –  7.30pm to 8.30pm
 

A guest feature by Albert Resonox

The Devil’s Stane facing south

On the site of what is now Menzieshill High School, long before the school was built, in fact long before many of the houses in Yarrow Terrace, Tweed Crescent and Dickson Avenue were built, this area being the highest point in the west of Dundee after Balgay Hill (hence the siting of the water tower), there used to be a circle of very large boulders,  (reference below)where I and friends used to build dens and jump around from stone to stone. These stones were removed when the school was built and the whole area flattened to make a sports field. Slightly to the east of this at the highest point of the hill (there used to be a triangulation stone) was the site of a long lost castle, the only trace of which left was the midden  which was almost like a miniature swamp, it too provided hours of entertainment for us nippers, playing games of dare running and jumping over and through it… (ah the heady days before X-factor eh?). I actually in my early teens verified the existence of this castle by means of vast ancient tomes in the public library, which had it documented (as late Saxon/early Norman), but schools and housing developments deleted all signs of both circle and castle (midden).

Balgarthno Circle taken facing west

The circle however, before houses were built, would have been in full view of the Balgarthno circle  so may have had some connection to it. Within easy walking distance of these locations are The Devil’s Stane  and Dark Stane Roundie though to be fair  The Roundie has been dismissed by some as a lookout post for the Dundee to Perth stagecoach, though its location and the main route are quite a bit apart… and a lookout point doesn’t seem to be an essential item, as it is too small and remote to have been a “high” coachstop… and at one point (pre-Victorian) had a large upright slab of grey slate in its centre… hence its name… but that is only my opinion/idea. Further on the road to Perth there is the Falcon Stone(which I have never visited… but will one day).

Dark Stane Roundie facing east

Grid references;

Balgarthno Circle;  NO353315

The Devil’s Stane; NO346310

Dark Stanie Roundie; NO362310

Fortean Times has reported that last July an American tourist saw “a largish, dark creature moving slowly up the mound.”  The magazine prints a photograph showing an ambiguous black blob on the hill. Unfortunately we aren’t at liberty to reproduce the Fortean Times photograph but here is one of our own.

 
 
Chelmsford Museum with the new, two-story extension on the right
 
With dire warnings of cutbacks in museum funding by HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council of England) which is likely to effect university museums such as the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers in Oxford, the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge and the Courtauld Gallery in London, it’s good to report on the newly-opened extension to the Chelmsford Museum in Essex.
 
The £5 million extension (taking fifteen months to complete) was formally opened to the public yesterday (with further celebrations today). Access to the museum is now through the light and airy extension, with exhibits there highlighting two of Chelmsford’s industrial pioneers – Guglielmo Marconi and Colonel R E Crompton. There are several new galleries and a lecture theatre, and the old part of the museum has also been given a facelift with new lighting, cases and carpets.
 
There is one gallery dedicated to the Neolithic, with some spectacular hand axes on show (one a beautiful jadeite axe from central Europe) as well as information on the Chelmer (Springfield) Cursus see below. Visitors to the Museum might also want to look out for a fine example of puddingstone at the old entrance to the Museum.
 
 
Puddingstone at the old entrance to Chelmsford Museum

By Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

Incredible news from the World Heritage Site at Brú na Bóinne. The National Roads Authority has released plans for its new bypass around Slane, County Meath, to be constructed on the eastern side of the town, a mere 500m – 30 seconds drive – from the buffer-zone around the world-famous monuments.

While it is difficult to argue with the given scenario, regarding the deficiency of existing roads for traffic volume carried, as set out in the Environmental Impact Statement summary, or with the history of accidents at points along the route, one must certainly question this selection of by-pass corridor.

How could a route that roughly shaves the outskirts off Newgrange and Knowth, the national symbols, have been chosen above other alternatives – on the far side of the town, for example?

According to the EIS summary, section 4.0;

“The assessment of several alternative Routes considered the following factors:

� Engineering suitability
� Traffic Safety
� Traffic Impact
� Archaeology and Cultural Heritage
� Ecology
� Landscape and Visual impact
� Agricultural Land-Use
� Geology and Hydrology
� Economics

Following detailed investigations an eastern bypass was considered the favourable Option.”

The order may be misleading. How were these factors weighted? I wonder. A quick look at the following map;

http://www.meath.ie/LocalAuthorities/Roads/MajorRoadsProjects/N2SlaneBypass/SlaneBypassPublications/File,39837,en.pdf

shows that the route chosen is the shortest, straightest option possible. To go west of the town would have meant taking a much longer, more circuitous trail, over, around and then back to meet the N2 again. Is it Economics that weighs heaviest, then? Followed perhaps by Engineering Suitability? Less ground to cover and less compulsory purchase orders. Was there really so much money used to prop up our banks, that a few quid couldn’t have been kept back to protect our Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, not to mention our national dignity, by financing the trouble of a road on the western side? Even if it was and I use this word reluctantly, ‘just’ something less uncommon, but the landscape around Brú na Bóinne. Come on.

How could they possibly dress that up for public view?

According, again, to the EIS summary, Section 8.0; “The proposed route alignment seeks to hide the road within cuttings and topographic adjustments in the landscape, coupled with extensive roadside planting to screen and green the corridor. However the design also seeks to minimise the scale of these cuttings and regrading – this is both efficient design and also lessens the potential intervention and “footprint” of the road corridor. In general screen planting and woodland planting will mitigate much of the landscape and visual impact of the road corridor itself. Where there is potential for exposed rock to present a long term scar in the otherwise pastoral landscape natural colonisation of these areas will in due course cover these potentially obtrusive features.”

That’s just great so, lads. Let nature sort out the scars after you’ve finished. The footprint, the awkward “44 archaeological and cultural heritage constraints within 500m of the route” (Section 10.0) and the un-sortable, the three sites where “the potential impact is considered potentially significant”. Slap a road in there.

Who gives a damn anyway?

Submissions, as set out in Section 13.0, can be made to an Bórd Pleanála. The relevant bypass publications are here;

http://www.meath.ie/LocalAuthorities/Roads/MajorRoadsProjects/N2SlaneBypass/SlaneBypassPublications/

Watch this space.

Silbury during English Heritage’s 2007-08 ‘stabilization’ works

An illustrated lecture by Jim Leary, the English Heritage archaeologist responsible for the recent survey on Silbury Hill, will be held at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum from 2:30pm on Saturday, 23 January 2010.

“In 2007-08 English Heritage undertook major works to stabilize Silbury Hill, parts of which were collapsing due the effects of the several tunnels and shafts which had been dug in to the hill over the last 200 years, particularly the large tunnel dug by R J Atkinson in conjunction with the BBC in the 1960s, and which were never backfilled. Before the tunnels were filled with chalk to prevent further erosion, the opportunity was taken to make an archaeological record of the inside of the hill.”
 
More here –

 

A report by Alexander Jarvie


Damage has been caused on the south west flank of the Midmill Long Cairn. Some idiot, probably unwittingly, has run their quad bike up and down the slope repeatedly causing damage to plants and the cairn itself. Sadly this cairn has already been abused in the past and probably faces more upheaval thanks to the building of a rapidly encroaching industrial estate. It’s a shame because all it would need is a simple fence with a gate to allow interested parties to visit and appreciate the history for which this area is renowned. Ironically Tuach Hill,  home to the remains of a stone circle, sits less than a 1/4 mile away.

Addendum, by Heritage Action

Of course, there’s no such problem putting up a barrier where there’s private, or commercial, property at stake, as has recently been emphasised at this self-same site. According to the link below, part of the “rapidly encroaching industrial estate”, that Alexander refers to, was obliged, by the terms of its planning permission, to remain outside a 30 metre exclusion zone around the cairn. This was not adhered to. Retrospective planning permission had to be obtained for a two metre-high section of fence “of welded rectangular mesh panels and horizontal posts, coloured green” that was found to be erected inside this buffer zone. No drive-through there, then.

According to the discussion: “By positioning part of the fence as proposed, partially within the 30 metre exclusion zone, there is no doubt that the siting of the Cairn and the visual line between the Cairn and the stone circle on Tuach Hill has been compromised.”  (Not that “views” are recognised as of significance  or given a molecule of protection by the planning system, not even when they are an integral part of our ancient heritage as often happens at megalithic sites!)

Temporary planning permission, for eighteen months, has been granted for the intrusive structure. It will be interesting to see if it comes down after this time. The full report here:

http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:fqrFxtAbJB0J:www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/committees/files_meta/802572870061668E802576630046339C%255C(7B)%2520Midmill,%2520Kintore.pdf+%22Midmill+Long+Cairn%22+scheduled&hl=en&gl=uk&sig=AHIEtbSAGv3vKAJL7nRVe5PxrjTzq6guaw

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