Vandalism including the lighting of fires has caused damage and associated repair costs to historic sites managed by the Office of Public Works, according to new data.
Damage totalling at least €4,600 to repair was caused at various properties managed by the OPW around the country, with 11 incidents recorded by the national monuments Service section of the OPW last year.
Details released under Freedom of Information show the priciest repairs were required at St Mary’s medieval church and national monument, Callan, Co Kilkenny, where broken windows, first reported by OPW staff on July 1, 2019, cost €2,000. As with most of the incidents reported to the OPW last year, gardaí were also notified of the damage at the near-800-year-old structure.
A pedestrian gate had to be replaced at a cost of €900 at Dunbrody Abbey in Co Wexford after they were deemed “beyond repair” following a site inspection.
At Baltinglass Abbey in Co Wicklow, it cost €600 to repair a dislodged corner stone reported last July, with the stone returned to its original location.
In Co Laois, the Rock of Dunamase required €500 of repairs after its walls were damaged by graffiti. The OPW was alerted to the damage last April via email by a local news reporter who was informed by a member of the public.
It cost €300 to repair damage at Monaincha Abbey in Roscrea in Co Tipperary, where fire damage and broken glass were found last June. The damage was reported by the Roscrea Heritage Society.
It also cost €300 to repair dislodged stones at Castledermot Abbey in Co Kildare. The incident occurred last July but, according to the OPW, it is an “ongoing issue” and is being monitored.
There was no cost of damages, but the OPW met with gardaí at the site of unauthorised access to Kells Gate Tower in Co Meath last June.
Similarly, following an incident at St Mary’s Church in Gowran in Co Kilkenny, gardaí were immediately notified.
According to the OPW: “An area of grass was burned following the lighting of a small fire on the site. Dressed stones scorched as a result.”
Following the incident, which took place over a week last June, “Gardaí [were] contacted and evidence removed, increased Garda presence, increased community awareness”.
Elsewhere, the internal and external walls of Duleek Graveyard in Co Meath were damaged by graffiti in January last year, and was repaired by the OPW and an external contractor at a cost of €2,553.75.
At the Bronze Age Beltany Stone Circle at Tops, Raphoe in Co Donegal “an area of grass was burned following the lighting of a small fire on the site”, with the top soil being replaced following the incident last April.
Effigies were scratched at St Mary’s in Gowran in Co Kilkenny.
That damage was detected during a site inspection, and the site is now being monitored.
The National Historic Properties section of the OPW reported just two incidents last year.
At Doneraile House in Co Cork, a silhouette was damaged by mould. The cost of repair of that damage had yet to be finalised.
At Kilkenny Castle at oil painting was damaged when it fell from a wall. There too, the cost of repair was awaited.
Previous years have seen damage caused to OPW sites by, among other things, skateboarding and the flying of drones.
The OPW dramatically stepped up its auditing of artworks last year, more than tripling the number of reviews carried out in 2018.
A total of 84 locations were audited in 2019, compared with 21 in 2018 and 30 in 2017.
According to the OPW: “The art management office undertakes routine audits of artworks for which it has responsibility in state-owned buildings. These art audits take place through a programme of spot checks and surveys throughout the year.”
It said 84 locations were visited for art audit checks between January and December 2019 in Carlow, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Kilkenny, Limerick, Longford, Mayo, Meath, Offaly, Roscommon, Tipperary, Waterford, and Westmeath. It said there were no issues relating to missing or damaged artworks in 77 locations and there are outstanding queries in seven locations. Those are likely to be completed in the coming weeks.
The OPW did not say why the number of audits had increased so dramatically last year but it is understood one reason is that digital technology allows them to be conducted more quickly.
The OPW carried out 30 audits in 2017 and just 21 were done in 2018. It is believed the audits conducted last year included a number of sites that had not been checked for a decade or more.
The issue of missing artworks, sometimes unnoticed for extended periods of time, has arisen in recent years.
The Comptroller and Auditor General raised concerns about unaccounted for artworks as far back as 2015 while back in December 2017, the Arts Council revealed it had to write off an estimated €110,000 in assets because some artworks had gone missing.
At that time it said “weaknesses in control over the art collection”, first highlighted in an internal audit in December 2013, were reaffirmed during a process involving a physical inventory and using a professional valuer to procure an open market valuation for a substantial proportion of the art collection.
“Both exercises identified that a number of pieces of art cannot now be physically located and the circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that this may have been the case going back many years,” it said at the time.