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We recently highlighted differing expert views on how to resolve the conflicting needs for wind energy and conservation. Two favoured balancing the issues on a case-by-case basis and being guided by precedents – which seems pretty rational. But a third was more wind-industry aligned and thought offering effective “bribes” in the form of cheap electricity to local people is the way to go – which it surely isn’t, as conservation would never get a fair hearing. Now the wind farm lobby has come up with an even dodgier plan:

Ministers are investigating a proposal to outsource the production of wind power to Ireland. Faced with fervent and growing opposition to onshore wind farms in the UK, Tory MPs are backing a plan to site those facilities in Ireland – and then export the renewable energy generated back to Britain using cables running under the Irish Sea, to Wales.” 700 turbines would be built using British Government subsidies on The Bog of Allen, an archaeological and natural treasure described by one Irish public body as “as much a part of Irish natural heritage as the Book of Kells”.

Bog of Allen, Offaly, soon to host 700 wind turbines supplying green energy to Britain?

Is that troubling? Dumping the downside onto the Irish but enjoying the benefits ourselves? Should we pay the Irish to store our nuclear waste too?! The scheme is the brainchild of American company Element Power who say “the Irish have a less reactionary attitude to onshore wind turbine developments than the British.” Do they? Or is it that the Irish government is known to have a conveniently uncaring attitude towards heritage conservation?

Those who care for Ireland’s heritage should look at Ken Williams’  picture here

It’s an absolute stunner (as usual for Ken), but makes you want to cry…

You can see more of Ken’s amazing work on his Shadows and Stone website.

Enniskillen Crannog

What a heritage hero!

> “Today I spent a few hours at the crannog in Enniskillen and it is a wonderful site, full of our history and precious archaeology”

> “That is why I instructed that a no-go zone be created around the site, with a ban on any construction traffic passing near or close to the crannog to protect the asset.”

> “As one of the very few to be excavated, I wish to deploy appropriate resources to fully excavate and record this gem of archaeology.”

> “If the crannog cannot now be saved, I will work to have a maximum excavation and record strategy going forward.”

> “I will appoint an independent person or persons to review the full story of this site, including how the current situation developed.”

> “Indeed, with major road developments in the pipeline, how known and unknown heritage sites are protected is an issue that I will be robustly interrogating.”

UPDATE: We have been asked to provide background information on this. We can do no better than provide a link to the blog of archaeologist Robert Chapple. The contrast between the Minister’s positivity and Mr Chapple’s account – including of the unacceptable time limits placed upon the excavation – is very striking. He even writes:

“It is also with great sadness that I learned today that the site crew had been interrogated in an attempt to discover who had the temerity to speak to me for this blog. One brave individual spoke up and admitted that they had provided the excellent photographs that I posted in yesterday’s update. By this evening they had been dismissed from their position without notice.”

Perhaps the Minister could extend his own enthusiasm for robust investigation to include this matter, as a matter of urgency?

Jeremy Deller’s much admired Bouncy Stonehenge, currently in Glasgow and shortly to be in London, wasn’t the first of its type. See here – The Poulnabrone Bouncy Dolmen , a touring public artwork by Jim Ricks launched in August 2010.

“I consider it an identical concept,” Ricks told the Guardian. “In terms of the description of the work, they are incredibly similar,” admitted Deller but he said that the idea for a bouncy Stonehenge had long pre-dated Ricks’s Dolmen. “The Olympics people got really nervous in case Jim decided to sue us,” he added. Fortunately though Ricks isn’t minded to – “Jeremy is a lovely man, and I have no reason to doubt his story” he said.

So cordial are their relations that it seems likely they’ll stage something that you won’t see every day – a megalithic bounce-off! Deller hopes that his “Sacrilege” will travel to Northern Ireland as part of its Cultural Olympiad tour. If it does, he will invite Jim Ricks to bring his Poulnabrone Bouncy Dolmen over the border to visit. (Rumours that Elvis and Lord Lucan will be present are yet to be confirmed!)

See more here

THE Irish Government is going to Europe to argue the case for turfcutters rather than heritage on a protected bog.

Moanveanlagh Bog is among a handful of remaining Special Area of Conservation (SAC) raised bogs nationwide on which the Government has hit a wall in trying to come to a resolution with turfcutters. They have been offered new plots, but they say they are too far away and too split-up as to be considered seriously.

Now the government is going back to Europe to see “if there is any flexibility on Moanveanlagh and other problematic bogs that remain” (“Flexibility” as in…. “a way the heritage can be destroyed”?)

In an amazing statement the Minister for Arts and Heritage confessed:

My sympathies are first and foremost with the turfcutters, including members of my own extended family* on Moanveanlagh. Part of me wishes that the portfolio had been kept to arts, sports and tourism, but that wasn’t the case and I have to accept responsibility on behalf of the Irish State on this issue.

[* whaaat?!]

So says The Irish Times thereby treating as news what has long been blindingly obvious to all.

Tara, with claw marks of a Celtic Tiger, now deceased

Still, the article highlights some successes and at least acknowledges a change in approach would be beneficial – for the country itself, not just its heritage:

“Progress has been made in developing and promoting a number of particularly important sites, such as Céide Fields, the Boyne Valley, Clonmacnoise and Glendalough, where the Office of Public Works provides interpretative centres.

Many hundreds of other sites are marked, however, by a black 1950s-style plaque with a harp on it, declaring the structure to be a national monument and warning against vandalism. The importance of the site and its local relevance is rarely mentioned. In today’s world of near-instant communications, such an approach is no longer acceptable.”

To Heritage Action,

It seems that eco and heritage safeguards in our little country have changed again, largely behind the scenes and in silence. Since this week; 11/09/11, the control of rural planning; on Rath and hedgerow removal, field tree cutting, swamp drainage, habitat and heritage has been moved to the Department of Agriculture; a department known for making things easy for farmers and the cleaning away of things farmers don’t like. How do these new measures help us meet our commitments to safeguarding heritage, habitat, wildlife and in particular birds? Just last week Birdlife Europe reported that Europe has lost half its farm birds since 1980. Will the easier removal of hedgerows help birds? How do these new measures manage to slip the net of European Environmental standards and law, that other countries are obliged to conform to and obey? Do they overrule the old Forestry Act’s safeguards for country trees and hedges and if for instance a farmer wishes to remove four acres of hedgerow with its trees and plants now, do no regulation or restraint apply? And if his neighbour does the same what will be left of our land?

Also over the last few months while researching a recently destroyed heritage site I tried to access a Department of the Environment site; , one of the main sites for heritage designation. However a message states that “The National Monuments Service regrets the continued unavailability of our website which is due to serious technical difficulties caused by a breach of security on the site”. Why does it take months for an Irish government site to be repaired and got working? The current Department of the Environment website states that national monuments are in the ownership or guardianship of the Minister of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and managed by the OPW, yet on another current government website it states that in March 2011, Brian Hayes was appointed by the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny as Minister of State at the Department of Finance with special responsibility for Public Service Reform and the OPW. So who now has responsibility for our heritage sites and indeed for the OPW in Ireland. The Department of Finance? Why suddenly are we doing everything wrong; why is Ireland now falling apart?

John Farrelly.

by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

Image of Folio 27V, with the four evangelist symbols from the Book of Kells. Source Wikimedia Commons

This Tuesday, the newly created ‘Kells Tourism Forum’ announced that; “Trinity College does not own the book of Kells; it is a national treasure and is owned by the people of Ireland. Our town is its natural and spiritual home.” The book, they argue, should be experienced “in an early Christian setting as opposed to its current ‘profane’ setting”, and they’re looking for one of its four component volumes to go on display in the town. Trinity, as you might imagine, are having none of it; “…on the grounds of security, environmental and preservation concerns… The preservation of this manuscript must take priority over all other considerations.”

It’s an interesting issue – a painstakingly produced facsimile copy of the manuscript is already on display in the local Church of Ireland (on the site of the original monastery), with, presumably, no discernible deviation in appearance, and complete, rather than quartered.

So, two questions. Firstly; the forum’s dismissal of the original’s surroundings at Trinity as “profane” implies that, in their minds, it is the relic itself that’s important – but how do they reconcile such a requirement for absolute authenticity (think about it) with the abandonment of three other parts to the profanity of a library? Secondly; wouldn’t Iona and Scotland have a prior “natural and spiritual” claim to the book – if, as is generally supposed, it had its origin there, before being carried to Kells for safety from the Vikings? How different is that to Trinity holding it and preserving it, after Cromwell’s raiding?

Perhaps somewhere in Mull, even now, the bovine relations of the calves that provided its pages are getting organised.

According to the Irish Independent; “Every year, around half a million people visit the library in Trinity to view the illuminated copy of the four Gospels, making it one of the top five tourist attractions in Ireland.” And there you have it, I suppose – “The forum believes that having one volume of the book in their town would boost tourism.”

by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

Newgrange is Ireland’s top heritage site. Official. A poll of over 600 people, by the Ecclesiastical Insurance Company, has come up with the following results;

1. Newgrange – 12.47%
2. The Burren – 12.26%
3. Glenda Lough – 9.51%
4. Cliffs of Moher – 8.66%
5. Hill of Tara – 5.07%
6. Clonmacnoise – 3.81%
7. Giant’s Causeway – 2.96%
8. Rock of Cashel – 2.87%
9. Wicklow Mountains – 2.75%
10. Phoenix Park – 2.73%

It also features in “the ones we are most embarrassed for not visiting yet” (and spot the entry that’s now easily accessible by motorway);

1. Hill of Tara – 12.26%
2. Rock of Cashel – 9.93%
3. Newgrange – 9.30%
4. The Burren – 7.61%
5. Giant’s Causeway – 6.34%
6. Clonmacnoise – 3.81%
7. Céide Fields, Mayo – 3.59%
8. Blarney Stone – 2.75%
9. Kilmainham Gaol – 2.33%
10. Dublin Castle – 2.11%

Isn’t that a bit like prompting the inhabitants of a house full of unconsidered, fading, Rembrandts to worry about not having visited the NG? The conclusion of the article, at least, shows that there is an awareness of the much wider problems of damage and erosion;

“While almost three in every four people believe heritage is critically important to Irish tourism, the survey also revealed that more than a third were not satisfied with the level of work being done to preserve heritage sites…”

by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

It’s been a while.

I was looking at a photograph of my parents’ wedding the other day. Taken over 40 years ago – taken, somehow, from an angle and above -, it was a large grouping that filled the church driveway. In it I spotted two of my uncles; looking only a little like they do now, and my late grandmother, her smiling face (where was my grandfather; was he hiding?). There was the minister that I was later named for; very smart with a black hat and a white collar. And on either side the gravestones and graves of previous generations seemed ‘grey’, even amidst the greys of the print. I doubt that they noticed them, though.

I’ve always been a bit dismissive of family history buffs; why would you want to live your life through somebody else’s? But I’m not so sure any more – they may just be experiencing a different type of interaction. Inside myself, I’m aware that the knowledge of where my great-grandparents lived (or where my great-great-grandparents lived), where they were married and where they are buried, links my life to those places and changes the way that I perceive them; I’m thinking of the unique thrill that I get from the roll of those particular hills, from the heavy growth of the hedges, or from the paths leading up through the fields. My hills, my hedges, my fields – or so it feels. Likewise, tracing your relations, both back and across generations, must link your life closely to all those people, living and dead. And to all those places – the more you discover, the more your ‘tribe’ and your feeling for their surroundings, present and past, must grow.

Theories of ancestor worship, of tribes and territorial markers, of instinct, are common, but I never really understood that power. For me the lonely stone in the meadow, or the circle on the side of the hill, were like flesh built on phantoms; I obsessed over the mysterious structure underneath. But my approach was probably wrong; I only thought perhaps, when I should have thought and felt. Could their link to ‘their’ land have felt as strong as mine does today? Were they told of their lineage for generations past? And did they see this land as if through their ancestors’ eyes?

How heavy must that boot have been, to leave its footprint in stone? Was it left by a phantom? Or was it left by a man?


May 2021

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