Why we should get down and dirty for the love of our archaeological heritage

Why we should get down and dirty for the love of our archaeological heritage

Kya deLongchamps says it’s time to get down and dirty for the sake of our archaeological heritage.

We're all great at standing around wringing our hands when a piece of our built heritage is damaged or destroyed or simply slips into the earth dragged down by brambles and weathering.

What matters to you? Would you be willing to roll up your sleeves and actually dig in to save a vulnerable Irish site? 

Your work might even boost regional tourism, business and employment opportunities in your area.

The “Adopt a Monument” scheme is an initiative of The Heritage Council and is managed by Abarta Heritage. 

It has already successfully supported communities throughout Ireland in caring for and further researching important surviving elements of heritage sites local to their area.

It started in 2016 with six projects and expanded to include a further seven places and this year sees seven more important sleeping sites, including a prehistoric tomb overlooking Lough Derg, a medieval church on the northernmost tip of Donegal, and a Napoleonic fort on the shores of the Shannon in County Clare.

Ian Doyle, head of conservation at the Heritage Council, points to the many successes and ongoing work taking place across the country in the hands of local volunteers overseen by appointed archaeologists and licensed specialists.

“Previous projects have cared for and conserved vulnerable monuments as well as carrying out successful surveys and excavations. 

"A good example would be Gallowshill in the heart of Dungarvan, Co Waterford. 

"The Waterford County Museum and the local community in the area adopted a large mound in the middle of a housing estate, thought to be a motte and baileys earthwork castle of the type constructed by the Anglo-Normans in the early phase of their invasions into south-eastern Ireland.

“The Heritage Council funded geophysical surveys to discover more of the site’s story, and the community ran a very successful medieval fair day to help to raise awareness. 

"In 2018 a community archaeology excavation took place at Gallowshill and in 2019 this project went on to be awarded €16,000 from the Royal Irish Academy Archaeological Research Excavation fund. 

"This is now a model for these community heritage projects.”

I was lucky enough to visit Gallows Hill during the medieval fair, and talking to volunteers discovered that prior to the digs on its mount, most residents had presumed it was a place where criminals were hanged. 

Why we should get down and dirty for the love of our archaeological heritage

Still, unearthing the true story of the amazing place — no one I spoke with was in the least disappointed.

Also in the Deise, the medieval church and graveyard at Knockboy, west Waterford, is home to seven ogham stones, built into its walls (Ogham is the earliest Irish evidence for literacy dating to the fifth century AD). 

The Knockboy Church Conservation Group through the Adopt a Monument project, carried out urgent conservation work on the weather-damaged gable and side walls of the church, and this amazing labour of love is ongoing this summer.

Ian is emphatic that the work of the community has saved the church from what was deemed to be “imminent collapse”.

Neil Jackman of Abarta is similarly humbled and delighted by the response to Adopt a Monument over the last three years. 

The Adopt a Monument really empowers local communities to take an active role in understanding, protecting and engaging with their local heritage, while collaborating with stakeholders and state bodies, as well as following best practice (that is — doing the work correctly and sustainably).

"For us it is an incredibly rewarding scheme, as we get to interface with these fantastic communities who care so much about ensuring that their local heritage is understood and preserved for future generations,” he said.

Speaking about the new sites chosen to join the scheme, Virginia Teehan, CEO of the Heritage Council, added: “While it was originally planned to have just four new sites join the Scheme, we received over 50 applications from energised community groups across Ireland.

"The enthusiasm of the seven groups shortlisted made it impossible to choose between them. Each of the sites is unique and represent important aspects of Ireland’s heritage. 

"We are really looking forward to working with the communities to uncover the stories of their sites.” 

So, the newcomers to Adopt a Monument 2019 are as follows:

Esker Church, Lucan, Co Dublin

An 11th-century ruined church in Lucan, County Dublin associated with St Finian. 

The Old Lucan Society aims to further study and survey this site and raise awareness locally of this historic monument.

Moygara Castle, Co Sligo

One of the finest surviving Gaelic castles in northwest Ireland. It was built by the O’Gara family close to Lough Gara in County Sligo. 

The Moygara Castle Research and Conservation Group wants to preserve and protect this important site for future generations.

Kilkerrin Battery Fort, Co Clare

The artillery fort was built in the early 1800s to repel a threatened invasion by Napoleonic forces. 

The Labasheeda Projects Group want to conserve and promote this important landmark on the shores of the Shannon Estuary in County Clare.

Graves of the Leinstermen, Co Tipperary

Located in the Arra Mountains overlooking Lough Derg in County Tipperary, little is known about this prehistoric monument which commands spectacular views over the surrounding landscape. 

The Arra Historical and Archaeological Society is eager to survey and research the site so as to raise awareness about the story of the site.

Malin Well Old Church, Co Donegal

This site has a wonderful seaside setting at the very north of the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal. 

The Malin Well Conservation Group hopes to further research the story of the site and work with professionals to carry out conservation work.

Moated Site, Ballyogan, Co Kilkenny

A site hidden in forestry on the slopes of Brandon Hill in the townland of Ballyogan is the focus for the Tyndall Mountain Club.

The site was recorded in the 1840s but little else is known about it. 

Through a programme of research and investigation, the club aims to learn more about the site.

Kilmurry Lime Kiln, Co Clare

A 19th-century lime kiln in the village of Kilmurry has been adopted by Kilmurry Tidy Towns whose objective is to carry out vital conservation works and to make this monument a focal point in the community.

To find out more about the Adopt a Monument process download the PDF at heritagecouncil.ie/

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