Environmental impact assessment and the demolition of national monuments


The national monument at Lismullin, Co. Meath which was identified during road construction.

The national monument at Lismullin, Co. Meath which was identified and demolished during road construction.

New regulations introduce an important change in the way environmental impact assessment is carried out in Ireland in order to comply with a ruling of the European Court. In future environmental impact assessment will be the responsibility of the competent authority that will come to a decision after receiving an environmental impact statement from the developer. The change means that from now on the demolition of national monuments like Lismullin, Co. Meath (pictured) will be the subject of an environmental impact assessment carried out by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.


On the 9th of July 2012 the Minister for Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht commenced the European Union (Environmental Impact Assessment of Proposed Demolition of National Monuments) Regulations 2012. The requirement for the regulations result from the decision of March 2011 of the European Court in case C-50/09 the European Commission vs. Ireland, that Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive as it had (amongst other things) excluded demolition works from the scope of legislation transposing the Directive into Irish Law. In other words demolition of a significant heritage building or structure where the works would constitute a significant impact on cultural heritage should have required an environmental impact assessment.


The new regulations amend the National Monuments Act 1930 by introducing environmental impact assessment procedures in relation to the demolition of national monuments. The amendment adds a new section 14D and only applies in relation to consents under section 14 or directions under section 14A (as inserted by the National Monuments (Amendment) Act 2004) in relation to national monuments discovered in the course of construction of an approved road scheme under the Road Act 1993.


This new section requires the Minister, as the competent authority, before deciding to grant a consent or issue directions that would result in the demolition of a national monument to ensure that the proposed demolition has been the subject of an environmental impact assessment. Environmental impact assessment means an assessment, being an assessment which includes an examination, analysis and evaluation, by the Minister that identifies, describes and assesses in an appropriate manner, in light of each individual case and in accordance with Articles 4 to 11 of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, the direct and indirect effects which proposed demolition of a national monument would have on the following:

(a) human beings, fauna and flora;

(b) soil, water, air, climate and landscape;

(c) material assets and the cultural heritage;

(d) the interaction between the factors referred to in paragraphs (a)

to (c).


The Minister, as the competent authority will receive information from the applicant in the form of an environmental impact statement, and will then carry out the assessment of impact on the environment of the proposed development. Environmental impact statement means a written statement of the direct and indirect effects, if any, which the proposed demolition of a national monument, if carried out, would have on the environment and which contains the information which an environmental impact statement is required to contain under this section. The Minister may after consultation with the Director of the National Museum and the responsible local authority grant an exemption from these requirements in exceptional circumstances. Where an applicant is required to submit an environmental impact statement a notice of this intention must be published in the press two weeks before the submission of the statement. The Minster must circulate the environmental impact statement to the Director of the National Museum and the responsible local authority. If the Minister considers the environmental impact statement is inadequate he may request further information. The Minister will then carry out an environmental impact assessment of the proposal and decide whether or not to grant a consent or issue directions to demolish the national monument. Once the Minister has decided whether or not to grant consent or issue directions for the demolition of a national monument he shall publish a notice in the press and arrange for the environmental impact statement and information on the decision to be made publicly available.


I will be speaking about EIS practice for quarry developments at the Portobello Institute 10 August 2012.  See here

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. 2012. Environmental impact assessment and the demolition of national monuments. The Charles Mount Blog, 19 July 2012. http://charles-mount.ie/wp/?p=906


Was there malaria in prehistoric Ireland?


The range of mosquito species Anopheles claviger (Meigen) from diptera-culcidae.0catch.com

The range of mosquito species Anopheles Claviger (Meigen) in grey from diptera-culcidae.0catch.com

Malaria could partly explain the widespread iron-deficiency anaemia seen in Irish Early Bronze Age cemeteries.

I am spending this summer writing a book on Ireland in the Bronze Age and at the moment I am working on a section on human health. The evidence from cemeteries where there is adequately preserved skeletal material, and these remains have been analysed for pathology, indicates that there was widespread iron-deficiency anaemia amongst the population, both children and adults. These deficiencies present in the preserved bone as porotic hyperostosis and cribra orbitalia while dental hypoplasia indicates acute infection and fever. So far I have noted instances in a dozen cemeteries in Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster and there are probably more. Usually in the reports these diseases are interpreted as indicating a population that was poorly adapted to its environment or was under nutritional stress.

However I know from the sections that I have written on settlement and farming that today the areas in which these cemeteries are found are amongst the most fertile regions of Ireland and the fields surrounding these cemeteries, if not built on, are used to fatten cattle and grow cereals. When I look at the archaeological and palynological evidence for agriculture it indicates that Early Bronze Age farming was generally small-scale and often carried out in in clearings in the forest close to water that were restricted to the lighter and better drained lowland soils (Weir 1995). These clearings were laboriously made by hand to provide grazing land for cattle and pigs with some sheep and horses. There was some cereal cultivation of both wheat and barley but this appears to have been on a limited scale although preserved wheat and barley has been found at a number of settlement sites. The resources of the surrounding forest were also used and hazel nuts, wild apples and berries were collected. The farmers also hunted and the remains of red deer, wild boar and hare have been found at settlements.

The pollen evidence indicates a gradual clearance of forest surrounding the settlements. For example at Roughan Hill, Co. Clare a system of irregularly-shaped fields enclosed by stone walls was laboriously cleared from the forest and contained dispersed houses within enclosures and family tombs covering an area of about 144 hectares (Note Roughan Hill is now dated to the Early Bronze Age see Jones 2008). An area this size might have produced 200-300 cattle annually as well as some cereals and there were all the resources of the surrounding forest. Settlements of the period were usually small scale consisting of just one or two houses for perhaps a single family group. The skeletal remains of the farmers tell the story of the hard work of cutting down trees, removing stones from fields and building stone walls. Many people suffered from injured backs with Schmorl’s nodes, periostitis, degenerative joint disease and osteoarthritis. In my view the archaeological evidence suggests that the Early Bronze Age people were quite well adapted to their environment and don’t appear to have been outstripping the available resources. So I am not happy with widespread nutritional stress as an explanation for the anaemia.

An alternative explanation is that a low level of iron in the blood may be a defence against pathogens. During infection iron is sequestered in the liver, which prevents invading pathogens from getting adequate supplies of this vital element. If these people were being affected by a pathogen it would have to be one that could spread to small-scale low-density communities living close to rivers, lakes and bogs. Diseases like Typhus usually require a higher density of settlement to spread, however mosquito-borne pathogens are a possibility. Recent investigations of Egyptian Royal mummies, for example, have identified the DNA of Plasmodium falciparum, the malaria parasite in association with porotic hyperostosis, so the anaemia could be indicating malaria (Nerlich et al. 2008).

Although Ireland no longer has any mosquito-borne pathogens, it did in the past. Irish mosquitoes are known to have spread tertian malaria (Plasmodium vivax) and the last major outbreak occurred in Cork in the 1840s, 50s and 60s. As well as malaria mosquitoes also have the potential to spread yellow fever, dengue fever and encephalitic viruses. Today Ireland has 18 species of mosquitoes of which four are Anopheles (including Anopheles Claviger (Meigen)) the potential carriers of malaria. Although mosquitoes have not been recorded in archaeological or palaeoenvironmental samples they occur throughout Europe and were first scientifically recorded in Ireland in 1823 (Ashe et al.1991). From the environmental perspective during the Early Bronze Bronze Age the climate is thought to have been 1-2° warmer than today and provided a satisfactory environment for mosquitoes to breed. In fact the Irish climate is still viable for mosquitoes and some health workers fear that climate change could see the re-emergence of malaria in Ireland in the future.

So an alternative hypothesis to the suggestion that all the iron-deficiency anaemia seen in Early Bronze Age remains is caused by nutritional deficiency could be the presence of a pathogen or pathogens that triggered the anaemic reaction as a defence mechanism. This pathogen could have been malaria which was present in Ireland in the nineteenth century. In this scenario the opening up of the forest canopy close to rivers, lakes and bogs altered the ecology and provided new habitats for mosquitos to colonise. The increased populations of mosquitoes bred in close proximity to humans and spread malaria or other pathogens that caused the anaemic reaction. Although there is currently no direct evidence for mosquito-borne pathogens in the Bronze Age Ireland I think this is a useful hypothesis that is worth further consideration and testing.


Ashe, P., O’Connor, J.P. and Casey R.J. 1991. Irish mosquitoes (Diptera: Culicidae): a checklist of the species and their known distribution. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. 91B, 21-36.

Jones, C. 2008. Roughan Hill prehistoric landscape. In M. Comber and C. Jones (compilers) Burren Landscape and Settlement, unpblished report for the Irish National Archaeological Research programme, 42-53.

Nerlich, A.G., Schraut, B., Dittrich, S., Jelinek, T and A.R. Zink 2008. Plasmodium falciparum in Ancient Egypt. Emerging Infectious Diseases 14(8): 1317-1318.

O’Sullivan, M. 2005. Duma na nGiall The Mound of the Hostages, Tara. Dublin.

Weir, D. 1995. A palynological study in County Louth. Discovery Programme Reports 2, 77-126.


About the author

Dr. Charles Mount has been involved in research on the Irish Bronze Age for more than twenty years and carried out his post-graduate and doctoral research on the period. Since then he has published extensively on the burials, monuments and artefacts of the period. This blog post is partly based on research he is preparing for a book on the period Ireland in the Bronze Age. You can learn more about Charles Mount’s publications here.

Mount, C. Was there malaria in prehistoric Ireland?. The Charles Mount Blog, 5 July 2012. http://charles-mount.ie/wp/?p=883