While Irish heritage is being celebrated and promoted this week, the destruction of a major archaeological monument, a major timber-built road of European significance at Mayne Bog, Coole, County Westmeath is continuing.
Although the National Monuments Service (NMS, the responsibility of Minister Heather Humphreys) has known since 2005 about the existence of the monument, they have failed to act to preserve it.
The road or Togher was discovered in 2005 and was reported by a concerned local resident, rather than the landowner or the industrial peat company Westland Horticulture who are extracting compost from the site.
The National Monuments Service subsequently instigated the excavation of a few meters of the 657m long roadway, which established that:
The monument was a substantial transversely laid plank built roadway. It was no mere trackway, it measured from 4.3m to 6m in width. The recorded length of the road was 675m, but it was seen to extend beyond both recorded limits.
A carbon14 date of 1200-820 BC was obtained from the timbers, making it a remarkable structure of Bronze Age date, 1000 years older than the celebrated Corlea Bog roadway in neighbouring County Longford.
The excavators recommended further archaeological work but this was never acted upon. What did happen was that peat extraction work continued unabated. What is worse is that the monument was never even properly listed or given any legal protection.
In a letter dated 30th June 2015 sent to An Taisce it was stated that: ‘The monument is not currently entered in the statutory Record of Monuments & Places (RMP) for County Westmeath…[nor is] the monument included in the Register of Historic Monuments’.
The Department’s National Monument’s Service has known about this monument since 2005. That was 10 years ago.
The Department’s NMS determined the date and type of the monument in 2006. That was 9 years ago.
Nevertheless it was only in the wake of representations from An Taisce in early 2014 that the Minister’s Department finally took further action. A small second excavation was instigated and a general suggestion was made to preserve-in-situ an element of the road/togher ‘to the east of the development site’. Nothing has been done about this, as far as we can gather, so the destruction continues. The Department suggests that co-operation with the landowning company will solve the issue; this is the same company that relentlessly inflicted so much damage upon the togher over the last decade.
The Minister’s current position is equally puzzling. The 30th June letter states
‘Given the co-operation so far secured from the landowner in this context, it is not considered that further steps under the National Monuments Acts (whether entry in the Register of Historic Monuments or the making of a preservation order) would be useful or warranted at this stage.’
If there is going to be a section of the timber-built road preserved-in-situ towards the eastern side of the site, it is going to require a preservation order to guarantee its survival. It is also imperative that the surviving elements of the monument are properly entered in the Register of Historic Monuments. To fail to act on both aspects could only be reasonably described as a total dereliction of duty.
Why was this significant monument not declared a National Monument in 2005/2006 and thus afforded full protection? Why was peat extraction work allowed to continue unabated for the past 9/10 years leading to the destruction of 75% of the monument? One might reasonably suggest that had external objections not been raised to the apparent indifference of the State, the destruction of the roadway would, by now, have been complete.
Professor John Waddell, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at National University Galway, noted that in terms of size, age, and antiquity the Mayne road is truly of European significance and is on a par with those preserved in dedicated heritage centres like Wittemoor in Lower Saxony, Flag Fen in Peterborough (UK), and Corlea in County Longford.
A number of objects were recovered from the area of the crossing point of the river and are now stored in the National Museum of Ireland – a bronze sword, a kite-shaped bronze spearhead, a second spearhead, and a bronze ‘doorknob’ spear-butt. The latter object is of Iron Age date. This establishes that the roadway continued in use over a considerable amount of time.
Dr. Patrick Wallace, recently retired Director of the National Museum of Ireland commented: ‘‘The possibility of unearthing a run of Bronze Age roadway in the neighbouring county to one already blessed with an Iron Age equivalent is culturally mouth-watering. Its possible destruction would be an international calamity’.
For further information, please call:
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce Tel: +353 87 241 1995
Ian Lumley, Heritage Officer, An Taisce Tel: +353 1 454 1786
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland