This cannot be the future of monument protection in Ireland

This cannot be the future of monument protection in Ireland

This cannot be the future of heritage conservation and protection in Ireland.

We must now sound the alarm about how poorly looked-after some of Ireland’s most ancient and most precious monuments are, and raise again the matter of how shutting off access to those monuments en masse is not the correct response to incidents of vandalism.

Crush barriers blocking access to Cairn G Carrowkeel
Crush barriers and no entry signs in front of the entrance to Cairn G, Carrowkeel.

I visited the Carrowkeel cairns on the Bricklieve Mountains in Co. Sligo yesterday, during a day-long tour of the prehistoric monuments of that county with a family from America.

We arrived at the cairns after a 20-minute hike from the car park and were utterly dismayed at the sight that greeted us.

Barriers and signs outside Cairn K Carrowkeel
Barriers and signs at Cairn K at Carrowkeel.

Crush barriers were crudely placed across the entrances of the passages of Cairns G, H and K, with signs reading ‘No entry’, ‘Danger – keep out’ and ‘Do not enter cairns’. These barriers were held down with sand bags.

Keep out signs and barriers at Cairn G
'Keep out' and 'do not enter' signs and barriers at Cairn G, Carrowkeel.

It this really the best we can do in the face of increased incidents of vandalism at prehistoric monuments – lock everyone else out for the sake of the crimes of a tiny minority? Are these the pictures we want visitors taking of our Neolithic monuments, of which we are rightly very proud?

No unauthorised entry sign Carrowkeel
The glossy tourism brochures present a picture-perfect image of our monuments, but the reality is sadly very different.

Where is the meaningful investment in their conservation and protection, and where are the resources for that purpose? It strikes me that heritage conservation is very poorly funded in Ireland, and yet there’s TONNES of money for tourism promotion and initiatives. What’s the use promoting tourism if we shut off all our monuments so that people cannot go and see them?

Where is the middle ground?

Where are the resources?

Where are the staff?

From a distance, Cairn G looks like a building site
From a distance, Cairn G at Carrowkeel resembles a building site.

The interior of Cairn T at Loughcrew was closed in the autumn of 2018 over fears that it might collapse – fears prompted by a crack in a passage lintel stone. Where is the long-promised condition survey of that monument? Why, after five and a half years, is it still shut? How long more will it be closed?

I don’t have all the answers about what should be done to both protect our monuments and to ensure access to them. I wish I did. However, Mythical Ireland is an independent entity, not a State-funded body or a branch of Government.

What is the Government of Ireland – which has ultimate responsibility for all this – doing to remedy the situation in the short to medium term?

What are the bodies who look after our Neolithic monuments – namely National Monuments Service and Office of Public Works – doing to make sure that ‘Keep out’ signs and crush barriers are not going to be pictured on the front pages of magazines and websites as a poor reflection of how we look after them?

There are brilliant people working in NMS and OPW. Those at the coalface – for instance, the OPW guides – are all deeply personally invested in their heritage and love what they do. They are not to blame for any of this.

Somewhere, much higher up the line, decisions are being taken – or more often, it would seem, NOT being taken, perhaps because funding and manpower are not available. And that is not good enough.

No entry to Cairn H Carrowkeel
No entry to Cairn H, where vandals knocked over a stone in front of the entrance.


It has been widely recognised by the likes of Fáilte Ireland, heritage bodies and local authorities that Ireland’s history, heritage and monuments constitute an incalculable resource and help contribute enormously to the economy of this country.

Why then are we failing so miserably when it comes to protecting, preserving and promoting them?

We must do better. And better does not mean closing them all, and barring access. Better means finding a way to protect them while allowing people to visit and enjoy them.

Enough is enough.

Read more

The era of unrestricted access to Ireland's prehistoric passage-tombs is ending

Ancient passage tomb in Sligo vandalised with words and symbols scratched into stones

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Hi Anthony,
Thank you for your informative blog / website on the importance of protecting these precious monuments. Ireland clearly has an abundance of these sites, & to international visitors such as myself, it seems incongruous that they’re not treasured & protected by govt – they are critical links with the ancient past & to see such amazingly extensive monuments desecrated like this is heartbreaking. Is World Heritage providing any support ? Are they even aware? Sounds like a letter-writing campaign might be in order; am happy to help coordinate/drum up international support. The Irish diaspora runs deep across many continents – you would have a LOT of support for such a campaign. Cheers & keep up the great work!

Lucinda Franklin

It is a shame. Could discreet outdoor security cameras and heavy penalties help? Archeologists and stone masons with grant funding? Enlisting some prominent (Irish) people for the cause? Have any of the sites done a good job as a model?

Snapper Earl

Anthony could we organise a petition or delegation to meet the Minister in charge or start a writing campaign…..we needs loads of people to do it. I’ve written time and time again and get the standard reply. We need a bombardment. I’ll be willing to go to a meeting of likeminded people and come up with a plan. We could use the other archaeology and history and societies to promote the idea. At present I’m in Tanzania but will be home in 2 weeks. Thanks. Mary Quinlan

Mary Quinlan

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