The levelling of two ring forts in Killmurray, north Cork this summer led to a public outcry in the county with calls for our justice system ‘to flex its muscles'. A loophole in the law, however, means that over 126,000 recorded monuments and sites in Ireland have no legal protection because landowners have never been notified of the presence of these monuments on their lands.

The scale of the modern destruction of our archaeological heritage became apparent in 2001 when the Heritage Council studied seven areas totalling 600 square miles - or 2.2% of the land area in the Republic of Ireland. This showed that 34% of archaeological monuments known to have been extant within the previous quarter-century had been destroyed.

‘The destruction of known archaeological monuments in the Republic of Ireland has not slowed in recent years. On the contrary, it has accelerated dramatically', the Archaeological Features At Risk Report stated.

In the 140 years between 1838 and 1978 the Report calculated a destruction rate of approximately 2.1% monuments per decade. Between 1978 and 1997, the rate of destruction rose to 3.3%. Based on the one year 1997, the destruction rate for that decade will have been 10% of monuments in the study area.

Other studies in Tipperary and Meath support these figures. Ring forts and earthen works are obviously the most vulnerable. A 1989 study of the ringforts in County Wexford found that over 70% of known ringforts had been destroyed.

Major infrastructural improvements under the National Development Plans - roads, gas pipelines, building works, and urban renewal - are often cited as being the principle causes. And certainly roads are the headline grabbers; Carrickmines and Tara have entered the lexicon of protest. And these - particular National Roads Authority projects - are generally the best recorded. An ironic exception is Carrickmines, where even after a €6 million spend the archaeological report (a condition of a grant of an excavation licence) has still not been published.

The Heritage Council suggested that 60% of the destruction was due to agricultural activities. In fact studies related to agriculture rather than archaeology highlight agriculture as the overwhelming cause. UCD's 2006 Knowledge Society reported that ‘Greatly increased pressures on archaeology will arise due to land improvements, including the unrecorded removal of earthen banks, ditches and field boundaries'.

This study echoes the joint 2005 UCD, NUI Maynooth, and Teagasc ‘Rural Ireland 2025: Foresight Perspectives' which observed that the reduction in farmer numbers and enlargement of farms to the scale necessary to maintain international competitiveness will ‘result in the longstanding familial association with archaeological sites becoming significantly eroded. Thus the coming decade constitutes a high risk period for Ireland's archaeological heritage.'

It concludes: ‘Indeed, some evidence indicates that the rate of destruction of archaeological sites may be increasing in coastal areas, and especially in the commercial farming counties, due mainly to land improvements (removal of banks, ditches etc.) associated with more intensive grassland farming'.

Yet no one has ever been successfully prosecuted for the destruction of a listed monument. In fact, the family who levelled the two ring forts this summer four days after they purchased the north Cork farm (both ring forts marked clearly on the maps on the estate agent's website) were also responsible for the destruction of two other ring forts on the October 1993 Bank Holiday weekend. The Archaeological Survey's field notes recorded then that a souterain - an underground passage - was revealed by the destruction. Three officials from the Archaeological Survey were refused permission to enter onto the land.

Under the current legislation, the only offence that can be prosecuted is a failure to give two months notice of intended works to the Government. Even so, according to legal Opinions provided to our organisation it would be ‘very difficult' to maintain prosecutions under the Acts because landowners could claim they did not have the intent - ‘mens rea' - to commit an offence.

Both Opinions agree that the failure to provide for individual notification of affected landowners in the 1994 act ‘raises serious questions on whether the act infringes on constitutionally protected property rights by imposing obligations and limitations on property owners without express provision for individual notification or appeal, particularly where criminal liability may be imposed as a result of failure to comply with those obligations'.

Professor of Archaeology at UCC William O'Brien, who is also Chair of the Royal Irish Academy's Archaeological Committee, states what everyone knows but few will say: ‘Until all landowners have been legally notified of the presence of registered archaeological sites on their land it is not possible to have effective protection of these sites'.

As it stands, beyond the 6,000 sites under ‘national protection', our monuments are simply listed on the Record of Monuments and Places [RMP], and the onus is on the landowner to check the record before work is done. The list of sites on the RMP was published in local newspapers in the mid-nineties but has never been updated. While much good work is being done in the context of the consolidation of the National Monuments Acts, the Department of the Environment's September 2010 ‘Public Information Document' on the revised legislation shows no plans to address this loophole, and the national position remains that individual notification is not necessary. Letters from this organization to the Minister remain unanswered.

Internationally, however, the Government has just ‘inscribed' its list of 7 potential nominations to eventually add to the 2 existing Irish World Heritage Sites - the Skelligs and the Boyne. But while protecting - some would say exploiting - many of our frontline sites, the World Heritage Convention requires members under Article V of the Convention to ensure that an effective legal regime of protection is in place for ALL its archaeological heritage.

In replying to a request from this organisation not to accept further World Heritage sites from Ireland until this loophole is addressed, the UNESCO Europe and North American chief Mechtild Rossler said that UNESCO is enquiring about the notification issue with the Irish authorities as well as with its own Advisory Body of the World Heritage Convention and the International Council for Monuments and Sites.

The UN's powers are limited. If Ireland can decide which of the 7 sites it wishes to nominate first - and it has not yet made this contentious decision - it is likely to take two years to prepare the nomination and a further year for its consideration by UNESCO.

More pressing, however, is the response currently being prepared for the European Commission by Ireland to a European Court Judgment of November 2008. Here, daily fines are threatened if Ireland does not protect the ‘environmental sensitivity of geographical areas' while ‘paying particular attention to landscapes of historical, cultural or archaeological significance'.

Ireland's proposal is for landowners to notify councils of projects which while below the threshold for an Environmental Impact Assessment will still have effects that must be considered. Under REPs, farmers were specifically told of archaeological features on their lands. But REPs is limited in scope and has been greatly reduced.

FIE has asked the Commission how a landowner would know to seek advice from the Local Authority about possible assessment if he has not been made aware of a sensitive site on his land? The Commission has now informed us that it is registering this issue as a CHAP, the new complaint registration system operated by the Commission's Secretary General.

The Land Registry has all ownership recorded in electronic spatial data since 2006; the geographical coordinates of each SMR site are part of that record. It would be an ‘overnight job' for the Land Registry to provide the names and addresses of landowners with these sites on their lands.

In 2008 Brian Lenihian signed a Statutory Instrument waiving Land Registry search fees for ‘Government Ministers or the Commissioner of Public Works'. The task of notification itself is no longer either costly or time consuming. But without it, the pace of destruction of our heritage will continue to increase.

Tony Lowes

Tony Lowes is a Director of Friends of the Irish Environment




FIE's investigation into the levelling of two ringforts in north Cork this summer led to the discovery that no one has ever been successfully prosecuted for damaging or destroying an ancient site in Ireland.

This is because a loophole in the law which means that over 126,000 ancient sites in Ireland have no protection because their owners have not been told they are there.

According to the independent Heritage Council, by 2001 the result was the destruction of more than a third of these sites in the previous quarter-century. They estimated the rate of destruction had reached 10% a decade. Five years later, Teacasc, the farm advisory body reported that enlargement in farms required to maintain international competitiveness has made the coming decade ‘a high risk period for Ireland's archaeological heritage.'

According to Professor William O'Brien, Professor of Archaeology at UCC and Chairman of the Royal Irish Academy's Archaeological Committee, ‘Until all landowners have been legally notified of the presence of registered archaeological sites on their land, it is not possible to have effective protection of these sites.'

Read FIE's submissions to the Minister for the Environment, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, and the European Commission . And see the Daily Mail's story ...

Eamon Ryan TD,
Minister for Communications, Energy, and Natural Resources
24 July 2009

By email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dear Minister;

We would draw your attention to the delay in publishing "Historic Mine Sites - Inventory and Risk Characterisation (HMS - IRC)", required under Directive 2006/21/EC on the management of waste from extractive industries.

This Directive states:

(30) It is necessary for Member States to ensure that an inventory of closed, including abandoned, waste facilities located on their territory is drawn up in order to identify those which cause serious negative environmental impacts or have the potential of becoming in the medium or short term a serious threat to human health or the environment. These inventories should provide a basis for an appropriate programme of measures.


The relevant [draft] Statutory Instrument [S.I. No. xxx of 2008, WASTE MANAGEMENT (MANAGEMENT OF WASTE FROM THE EXTRACTIVE INDUSTRIES) REGULATIONS 2008] states that ‘Such an inventory' is ‘to be made available to the public.' [19. Inventory of closed waste facilities.]

A project to fulfil this requirement commenced in January 2006 with a final report and a GIS geodatabase due in January 2008.


The project was a collaboration between the EPA, the Geological Survey of Ireland and the Exploration & Mining Division of your Department. The final report includes Site Investigations and Characterisation Reports at each of the inventoried sites and, further, recommendations for an appropriate programme of measures.

We have been told that this report can not be made public until it is approved by the Cabinet. The failure to publish this report over the last 18 months is not easy to understand, given that, in the words of the Project outline:

"An outstanding environmental problem relating to mining in Ireland is that of old mining sites or abandoned mine sites, which were not reclaimed when operations ceased and where past mining activities have led to serious land degradation and environmental pollution."

As the sole Cabinet member of the project partners, we would be most grateful if you obtained the necessary permission for its publication from your Cabinet colleagues.

Yours, etc,


Tony Lowes


FIE is calling for prosecutions to follow the recent destruction of two ringforts in north Cork. The Heritage Service of Cork County Council has confirmed to FIE the complete levelling of two listed ringforts by a farmer in County Cork. The ringforts were located in the townland of Knockacareagh, near Killmurray in north Cork.

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.

The local Guards refused to act unless requested by the National Monuments Service or the Local Authority. By the time these bodies visited the site, the destruction had been completed.

In a letter to the Minister for the Environment, we have urged that the full weight of the law is 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.

Letter to Minister (with maps)   | Picture and maps from auctioneers site  |

Before and after photographs


Recent actions relating to the construction of the M3 motorway through the Tara/Skryne Valley reveal the Irish Government to be in direct contravention of both Agenda 21 and the World Heritage Convention.

We the undersigned urgently call upon the United Nations to intervene, and to demand that the Irish Government halt work on the M3. It is imperative that an alternative route and plan be examined, one that does not cut through this heritage site of international importance, and one that is in accordance with the principles of Agenda 21and the World Heritage Convention.

Sha Zukang United Nations Undersecretary General, Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Juanita Castano, United Nations Environment Program UNEPA NY Office
Mr Francesco Bandarin, Director, UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Paris, France

Stavros Dimas, European Commissioner for the Environment, Brussels, Belgium
EU Commission, New York
EU Commission, Washington, DC
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Department of the Taoiseach, Dublin, Ireland
Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey, Dublin, Ireland
Minister for the Environment, Heritage & Local Government John Gormley, Dublin, Ireland
Paul Murray, Ambassador, Permanent Delegation of Ireland to UNESCO, Paris
Irish Mission to the UN: Second Committee Issue Delegates Kevin Dowling, Denise McQuade, Patricia Cullen

Dear Mr. Sha Zukang, Ms. Castano and M. Bandarin,

Ireland claims to be in compliance with Agenda 21 and its principles of Sustainable Development Law: a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which humans impact on the environment. It includes the following principles:
Principle 1 Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.
Principle 3 The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations.
Principle 4 In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it.
Principle 7 States shall cooperate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth's ecosystem...
Principle 8 To achieve sustainable development and a higher quality of life for all people, States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and promote appropriate demographic policies.
Principle 10 Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.

Similarly, in its ratification of the 1972 World Heritage Convention, Ireland pledged to conserve not only the world heritage sites situated on its territory, but also to protect its national heritage.
This document defines sites as "works of man or the combined works of nature and of man, and areas including archaeological sites which are of outstanding universal value from the historical, aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological points of view."
It goes on to state that it is the duty of each State Party to the Convention to ensure "the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of the cultural and natural heritage ... situated on its territory" and that the state is bound by the agreement to "do all it can to this end, to the utmost of its own resources and, where appropriate, with any international assistance and co-operation, in particular, financial, artistic, scientific and technical, which it may be able to obtain."
Further, in order "to ensure that effective and active measures are taken for the protection, conservation and presentation of the cultural and natural heritage situated on its territory, each State Party to this Convention shall endeavour, in so far as possible, and as appropriate for each country:
(a) to adopt a general policy which aims to give the cultural and natural heritage a function in the life of the community and to integrate the protection of that heritage into comprehensive planning programmes;
(b) to set up within its territories, where such services do not exist, one or more services for the protection, conservation, and presentation of the cultural and natural heritage with an appropriate staff and possessing the means to discharge their functions;
(c) to develop scientific and technical studies and research and to work out such operating methods as will make the State capable of counteracting the dangers that threaten its cultural or natural heritage;
(d) to take the appropriate legal, scientific, technical, administrative and financial measures necessary for the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and rehabilitation of this heritage; and
(e) to foster the establishment or development of national or regional centers for training in the protection, conservation and presentation of the cultural and natural heritage and to encourage scientific research in this field."

However, the Application of the World Heritage Convention by the State's Parties with regard to Ireland states that "Inventories, established at national and local levels, have not been used as a basis for selecting World Heritage sites" and that "fragmentation of services for protection, conservation and presentation and the lack of research and training programmes also weaken their efforts to ensure site protection." In spite of these admissions there were "no proposed further actions."

Recent actions relating to the construction of the M3 motorway through the Tara/Skryne Valley reveal the Irish Government to be in direct contravention of both Agenda 21 and the World Heritage Convention.

We the undersigned urgently call upon the United Nations to intervene, and to demand that the Irish Government halt work on the M3. It is imperative that an alternative route and plan be examined, one that does not cut through this heritage site of international importance, and one that is in accordance with the principles of Agenda 21and the World Heritage Convention.

An Taisce
CELT (Centre for Environmental Living and Training)
Coomhola Salmon Trust
Forest Friends
Friends of the Irish Environment
Irish Doctors Environment Association
Irish Natural Forestry Foundation
Irish Seal Sanctuary
Just Forests
Sustainable Ireland Cooperative Society Ltd.
The Organic Centre
The Woodland League
Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment (VOICE)