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Prompted by his discovery of two additional series of steps on the sides of Skellig Michael, archaeologist Michael Gibbons has speculated that the UNESCO World Heritage Site may have had a number of settlement phases. He has also contended, given the remains of a fort above the monastery, that arriving monks may have taken over a “pre-existing citadel” – possibly one of the so-called “high forts” of the Dingle peninsula and the Blasket islands.

The archaeologist, a critic of the Office of Public Works’ conservation efforts on the island, argues that; “Staircases are the key to Skellig Michael’s historical chronology, since the sixth century or further back, and up until the period when the Commissioners of Irish Lights would also have created access routes,.. The different staircases may indicate a far more complex pattern of settlement than previously documented, or they may also indicate a far more daring pilgrimage circuit was created on the island, at a time when it was a pilgrimage site.”
The report by Lorna Siggins, of ‘The Irish Times’, is here;

Oh for God’s sake. What next? This report was in today’s Irish Examiner;

“THE Department of the Environment has launched an investigation into the complete destruction of two ancient ring-forts.”

Two ring forts in Kilmurry, south-east of Macroom, Co.Cork, have been completely destroyed in the course of “works” on a farm. According to the article; ”no above-ground trace remains. All their earthen banks have been removed and filled in.”

“…The Friends of the Irish Environment group has now written to Environment Minister John Gormley calling for the full weight of the law to be brought to bear in this case. “While the vast majority of farmers and land owners have the greatest respect for our archaeological heritage, often at their own expense, there remain elements in the farming community who believe that they can destroy these sites at will because of the wide-spread historic lack of enforcement,” spokesman Tony Lowes said.”

There’s a question worth posing. To what extent has Irish culture created this situation? Or rather, created the environment that allows such behaviour, like poisonous vermin, to breathe and breed? Think about our reluctance, for example, to make a fuss about something (and never if it‘s a neighbour); our national admiration for ‘chancers’ and for rule-breakers; or the ridiculously soft approach to enforcing the law in these cases.

And what kind of message was sent out when the Government itself tweaked legislation to let roads cut through national monuments? That heritage doesn’t really weigh that heavy in the balance, perhaps? Or that nothing will happen if you unilaterally ‘work’ away with that digger, beyond a bit of a reprimand and probably not even that. The road-building process at least left records behind, but even an optimist wouldn’t depend on that distinction registering (in a potential monument-remover’s mind). Tony Lowes continues;

“The full weight of the law must be brought to bear in this case. The message must go out across Ireland that however few these individuals are, they will not be tolerated and the national heritage will be protected.”

Studies have shown that the surface features of our ancient heritage are being constantly and less obviously, eroded – as it is – by the likes of careless ploughing, by the rubbing and trampling of livestock and by unchecked vegetation growth, but this act, if the report is accurate, is so blatant and so provocative, that it cries out for an example to be made. I’m sorry for the medieval turn, but this time heads need to go on pikes at the wall. And maybe if heritage is seen to be taken seriously from above, it will begin to be taken seriously on the ground.

Under section 12 (3) of the National Monuments Amendment Act (1994) ;

“When the owner or occupier (not being the Commissioners) of a monument or place which has been recorded under subsection (1) of this section or any person proposes to carry out, or to cause or permit the carrying out of any work at or in relation to such monument or place, he shall give notice in writing of his proposal to carry out the work to the Commissioners and shall not, except in the case of urgent necessity and with the consent of the Commissioners, commence the work for a period of two months after having given the notice.”

The pre-euro penalties are set out in Section 13;

A person who contravenes section 4 (1), 4 (2), 5 (1), 5 (2), 5 (6), 7 (2), 8 (3), or 12 (3) of this Act shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable—

( a ) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding £1,000 or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both, or

( b ) on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding £50,000 or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or to both.”

The ‘Green’ Department of the Environment have been active on a number of issues lately and this one will, most likely, not be ignored. Not least because they may wish to put clear distance between the Government’s and the NRA’s, use of ‘preservation by record’ (on Tara and its associated monuments) and what could possibly be referred to, in this case, as ’destruction without record’.


August 2010

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