The Meath Chronicle newspaper recently ran a two-page feature article on a campaign by Lar Dooley and others to put a proper conservation management plan in place for the Neolithic cairns at Loughcrew, Co. Meath.
Reporter Noelle Finnegan asked me for my views on the subject, which I was happy to give. The following is what was printed by the Meath Chronicle.
One of the biggest issues at Cairn T is that people still walk to the top of the monument despite several signs asking them not to, according to well-known author and expert on megalithic sites Anthony Murphy.
Anthony, who is the founder of the Mythical Ireland website, has written extensively about Loughcrew and is also a tour guide.
He told how one day he was there with a film crew filming, yet people continued to walk up the cairn.
Visitors climb cairn T despite signs asking them not to, May 2022.
While he said it was regrettable that the interior of Cairn T is closed to the public, he understood why the decision was taken.
"It is entirely the remit of the OPW and the National Monuments Service to first of all determine the condition of the monument and ascertain what public safety issues there are and what issues there are with possible subsidence or collapse of the interior of the monument."
Anthony said he has been visiting the Loughcrew cairns regularly for almost a quarter of a century and it has given him a real sense of how precious the monuments are. While he said he was blessed and grateful to have been in the interiors of the likes of Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth and Loughcrew, he understands there is a "very real and pressing need to preserve monuments so that they will survive for many centuries and perhaps millennia into the future".
In his opinion, the biggest problem at Cairn T is that "almost on a daily basis visitors ignore the signs asking them not to climb on the cairn" adding that while there in 2020 with a film crew, despite the presence of cameras, people still climbed to the top of the cairn.
"If this is the lack of respect that some visitors show to the monuments, then the authorities really have no choice but to limit or prevent access altogether," he said.
"While I favour the notion of a conservation plan, we really need to consider what any intervention to those monuments would look like. At Brú na Bóinne, for instance, excavation and conservation works began at Knowth in 1962 and were still going on four decades later! Is that what people want for Loughcrew? Archaeological excavations that might take decades, and render the monuments virtually inaccessible for years?
"It's a tough call. My own view would be leave things as they are, but maybe install CCTV at Cairn T as a deterrent to the cairn climbers."
The OPW has confirmed that it currently has no plans to install CCTV at the site and says signage around the cairn asking visitors not to climb in order to protect the monuments and themselves has for the most part proven to be effective.
I should point out that I have reconsidered my call for CCTV to be installed in the wake of the recent spray-paint vandalism at Lia Fáil on the Hill of Tara. I think that the installation of security cameras at Irish sacred sites would be a retrograge step. A permanent OPW guide presence at Tara and Loughcrew might be more helpful.
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