When will it ever end? Vandals strike again at Loughcrew

When will it ever end? Vandals strike again at Loughcrew

Just when we thought we'd had enough vandalism and seen enough damage to our precious Neolithic monuments, defacement has reared its ugly head again – this time at a passage-tomb at Slieve na Calliagh, Loughcrew, County Meath.

Some idiot decided to make scratch marks on a chamber stone within Cairn S, one of a cluster of Neolithic passage-tombs situated on the highest hills in County Meath at Loughcrew.

I spent the day at Slieve na Calliagh today (22nd April 2024), shooting footage for a forthcoming short film about these incredible and precious monuments which are estimated to be over 5,000 years old.

One of the aspects of the film – unfortunately – was a discussion of vandalism which has occurred here and at other prehistoric monuments in recent years. In one segment, I was discussing vandalism that occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic, when someone named 'Ben' scratched his name and other markings onto some stones at Loughcrew, some of which contained precious megalithic art over five millennia old.

Scratched graffiti at Loughcrew back in 2021.

Our plan for the film was to shoot at individual cairns, describing their astronomical alignments, their megalithic art and their unique features. Sadly, when we got to Cairn S, I noticed fresh scratch marks on one of the stones making up its central chamber.

Vandalism at Cairn S, Loughcrew
Fresh scratch marks on a stone at Cairn S, Loughcrew.

The scratch marks appear to be very recent, and cursory examination suggests they were made using a piece of stone. Thankfully the damage would appear to be superficial, which means that it is unlikely to leave a long-term scar on the stone, but that does not distract from what is another attack on our prehistoric monuments.

Scratch marks left by a vandal at Cairn S, Loughcrew
The scratch marks at Cairn S were probably made using a stone.

The graffiti of 2021 was examined by archaeologists from the National Monuments Service, who said at the time that the damage was superficial and thankfully not deep enough to leave long-term damage.

However, let us not beat around the bush here. There is NO excusing this kind of stupid, criminal and outrageous behaviour. If enough incidents such as this were to happen, the priceless and cherished megalithic art of Loughcrew would be irreparably damaged.
Vandalism of a stone at Loughcrew
A close-up view of the recent vandalism at Cairn S in Loughcrew.

Unfortunately, this is just the latest in a long and concerning series of incidents of vandalism at Irish monuments, particularly prehistoric stone monuments. In the autumn of last year, a very serious incident in Cairn K at Carrowkeel, on the Bricklieve Mountains in County Sligo, saw at least eight stones in its inner chamber engraved with symbols and words. That incident was discovered by Ken Williams and reported to Gardaí and the National Monuments Service. Since then, regrettably, the Office of Public Works has erected barriers preventing access to the interior of the cairns. The huge majority of people who respect our ancient monuments are being punished because of the sins of the few.

Crush barriers and signs preventing access to cairns at Carrowkeel, Co. Sligo.

Three times in the past decade, vandalism has occurred at the Lia Fáil, the coronation stone for the High Kings at the Hill of Tara in County Meath. Just last year, another idiot spray painted the word 'fake' on all four faces of the Lia Fáil.

Another Neolithic passage-tomb on the Ballygawley Mountains in County Sligo had a huge hole dug into it during the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the National Monuments Service nor the OPW can be blamed for mindless attacks such as these, the incidents of vandalism have raised serious question marks about how poorly protected our prehistoric monuments are. There are no OPW guides at many monument complexes, including Carrowkeel, and the guides at Loughcrew (who do a fantastic job by the way) are only on site during the summer season. Many sites do not even have proper interpretive signage to inform visitors of the importance, uniqueness and value of these prehistoric structures.

This latest incident at Loughcrew should bring into sharp focus the lack of proper care of our Neolithic tombs. These monuments are being featured on glossy tourism brochures and websites as a means of encouraging visitors to come to Ireland to appreciate our amazing history and heritage. However, unless proper investment is made in their protection – and that cannot take the form of a policy of putting fences, barriers and locked gates up preventing access to all – there is a real danger that those same monuments will be damaged and defaced to the point where it will no longer be possible to appreciate them.

Note: I have reported the damage at Cairn S to both the National Monuments Service and the Garda Síochána at Oldcastle.

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