The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem at Kildare

The Perceptory of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem at Tully near Kildare

The Perceptory of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem at Tully near Kildare

For three hundred years the town of Kildare was host to a house of crusader knights.

The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights of Malta, originated in the early twelfth century as an international monastic order Continue reading

Early indicators suggest that activity in the Irish archaeological and construction sectors continued to decline in the first quarter of 2012: updated

Excavation licenses 2000-2011

Excavation licenses 2000-2011

Update 14/5/2012

There was no sign of recovery in April as The Irish Construction PMI published by Ulster Bank posted another fall, declining to 45.4 in April, from 46.7 in March. This is the sharpest rate of decline in the sector since October 2011 and suggests archaeological activity in Ireland is continuing to fall. See true economics.

In my last blog post on archaeological licensing I noted that archaeological excavation licenses indicated that in 2011 archaeological activity in Ireland continued to contract for the fifth year. There was a reduction of 19.6% from 694 licenses in 2010 to 558 in 2011. There was also a reduction in the Central Statistics Office (CSO) Volume of Production Index in Building and Construction from 28.2 in 2010 to 23.5 in 2011 a drop of 16.7% . Continue reading

Heritage Council To Go?

The Future independence of the Heritage Council to be reviewed.

Text of my article published in the current edition of Archaeology Ireland, Volume 25, No. 4, page 4.

On the 17th of November Brendan Howlin, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, published the Public Service Reform Plan. The plan is intended to give effect to commitments made in the Programme for Government to reform the Irish public service. A key item in the programme was the commitment to make substantial cuts to the number of State bodies and companies, and the Reform Plan includes a new and expanded programme of State Agency rationalisation which will affect 48 state bodies by the end of 2012 with a further 46 to be reviewed by June 2012. The Heritage Council has been included in the list of candidate bodies for critical review by the end of June 2012. The proposal in the Reform Plan is to merge the functions of the Heritage Council into the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Continue reading

Irish Flanged Axes

Flanged axe found near Castledermot, Co. Kildare.

The flanged axe is a distinctive Bronze Age form, introduced at the end of the Early Bronze Age that represented an attempt to improve the hafting mechanism of the axe head by creating a longitudinal flange combined with a latitudinal ridge to prevent the axe head from moving around on the haft while in use. With the flanged axe the flanges extend beyond the stop-ridge and curve back into the sides of the axe. Actually the use of low flanges and stop-ridges had already appeared on the earlier Derryniggin type axes about 1700-1600 BC. Another approach is represented by the palstave axes, where the flanges and stop-ridge were cast as a single unit. The palstaves appear to represent a parallel approach to improving the axe haft and may have been a later development that came into use alongside the flanged axe, though much smaller numbers are known from Ireland.

There are about 700 flanged axes known from Ireland. They take a variety of forms. Most have the characteristic crescent-shaped blade. Some have low flanges that are convex in section and others have high angled flanges. In some cases the high flanges were bent inwards to grasp the haft and these are called wing-flanged axes. Some examples have loops which acted as an additional fixing point to attach the axe head to the haft. Some of the flanged axes have decoration on the blades and flanges.

No Irish flanged axe has ever been found in association so dating them is difficult. A matrix for a looped flanged axe occurs on a stone mould from Lough Scur, Co. Leitrim along with the matrices for two flat, thin butted axes. The mould doesn’t date the flanged axe as the matrix could have been a later addition to an old mould but it does suggest that flanged axes could have developed during the Early Bronze Age. The flanged axes probably appeared while the Derryniggin axes were still in production before 1600 BC and superseded that type. No flanged axes have been found in Late Bronze Age hoards so they appear to have gone out of use by 1200 BC.

Further reading

Greer Ramsey 1995. Middle Bronze Age Metalwork: Are Artefact Studies Dead and Buried? In J. Waddell and E. Shee Twohig, Ireland in the Bronze Age. Dublin.

About the author

Dr. Charles Mount has been involved in research on the Irish Bronze Age for more than twenty years and has published extensively on the burials, monuments and artefacts of the period. This blog post is based on research he is preparing for a book entitles Ireland in the Bronze Age. You can read more of Dr. Mount’s publications here .

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. Irish Flanged Axes. The Charles Mount Blog, November 10, 2011.

Irish Early Bronze Age Houses 1.4

The development of Early Bronze Age houses from the oval example at Ross Island to the post-built house at Dogstown and the large wall slot and post-built example at Townparks.


In Ireland after 2200/2100 BC copper was alloyed with tin to create bronze and the Early Bronze Age commenced. The Early Bronze Age is distinguished from the preceding Copper Age by a number of factors. These include the use of bronze and the development of cemeteries of pit and cists graves either flat or in barrows and cairns. Other factors are the introduction of Bowl and Vase Food Vessels and later Urns as well the development of the classic Bronze Age settlement feature, the round house. The end of the period saw the transition to the Middle Bronze Age in the years 1600-1500 BC.

At the time of writing just 22 houses from 18 settlements can be confidently said to date to the Early Bronze Age. However, this is more than twice the number discussed by Martin Doody in his review of the houses of the Bronze Age just over a decade ago. Not all these sites are published and as other site reports become available the preliminary scheme presented here may be subject to change. The significant increase in the number of settlements known in comparison with the Copper Age is probably due to the use of larger structural elements such as posts and bedding trenches that have left more substantial remains. The houses don’t occur all over the country but have been found in two main concentrations. Half the sites have been found in north-east Ulster with three around the shores of Lough Neagh. The second group is in the south and east and extends from Ross Island, near Killarney, across Cork, Tipperary and Laois to South Dublin. Throughout the west, midlands and north-west no houses of the period have been identified. The house distribution is much more restricted than the Early Bronze Age burials and is largely a result of development driven investigations.

The houses are discussed within a three phase chronological scheme; EBA I-III using a combination of radiocarbon dates and pottery associations. This phasing has been made possible by the publication of Anna Brindley’s radiocarbon-dated pottery typology that has transformed our understanding of Early Bronze Age chronology.

Early Bronze Age I

In EBA I, which dates from 2200/2100 – 2000/1900 BC, there are seven houses known from four settlements. Only half of these houses are published but there is enough information available to indicate that the houses had a variety of forms ranging from rectangular, to sub-rectangular, oval, horse-shoe shaped and semi-circular. Six of the houses were built with foundation trenches, two of which contained posts and one stakes. Only one house is said to have been built of posts alone. The houses were relatively small or narrow, with diameters ranging from just 2.7-6.09m. Four of the houses were associated with Beaker pottery (which continued in use into the Early Bronze Age) and two with Bowl Food Vessels. House D at the Ross Island copper mine had a nodule of pure cooper in its foundation trench, which is the earliest occurrence of the metal in an Irish house. At three of the sites the houses were arranged in pairs.

Early Bronze Age II

In EBA II, dating after 2000/1900 BC, there was a move from pairs of small houses to single large houses with the development of the classic Bronze Age round house. There are just five houses known from five settlements. These were all single structures constructed with posts or posts and bedding trenches and arrangements of internal posts to support the roof structure. The houses were much larger than the EBA I examples with a diameter range from 6-12.8m. The largest example from Brecart, Co. Antrim was a very large sub-circular structure with a diameter of 11.8 x 12.8m and was constructed with a bedding trench, posts and stakes. The post-built house at Dogstown was associated with sherds of Vase Food Vessel. The post-built house at Ballyveelish is the earliest with a porch entrance feature and it was also used as a mortuary house and probably a dead house.

Early Bronze Age III

IN EBA III, after 1750 BC, the Early Bronze Age entered its final phase ending with the transition to the Middle Bronze Age after 1600/1500 BC. There are nine houses known from seven settlements. Note that refinements in the statistical analysis of radiocarbon dating may move houses discussed here into the Middle Bronze Age and vice versa.

Most of the settlements had pottery associations and Cordoned Urns were the most common type. As in the earlier EBA II period there tended to be one house per settlement. Most houses were built with wall slots or gullies with internal posts to support the roof structure and the diameters range from 4 – 9m. The largest example at Townparks, Antrim appears to have had walls finished with wattle and daub. This phase has the first evidence for house enclosures and two of the houses were set within palisades.


The Early Bronze Age saw significant development in house design. Commencing with a range of shapes the classic post-built round house came into use after 2000/1900 BC in what is often referred to as the Ballyvally stage of the Bronze. This stage also saw the first elaboration of houses with the addition of porches and probably the use of mortuary houses. At the end of the period more elaborate houses with posts and bedding trenches developed and the first enclosed palisaded house enclosures appeared.

Note this summary is based on published and unpublished material as well as accounts from the Excavations Bulletin and may be subject to change as more detailed information becomes available. The Bronze Age houses have not to date been the subject of a statistical radiocarbon analysis and this will probably have a significant impact on the proposed dating sequence. My thanks go to Robert Chapple for allowing me to refer to unpublished material on Brecart, Co. Antrim.

Further reading

Half the sites have already been discussed by Martin Doody (2000) in his review of Bronze Age Houses and he includes a full set of references. The Ross Island houses are discussed by William O’Brien in his monograph on the copper mines. The house at Dogstown is published by Doody (2009) and Townparks by Beverly Ballin Smith et al. (2003).

Doody, M. 2000. Bronze Age Houses in Ireland, in A. Desmond, G. Johnson, M. McCarthy, J. Sheehan and E. Shee Twohig (Eds) New Agendas in Irish Prehistory. Dublin.

Doody, M. 2009. Dogstown, Co. Tipperary. Possible Structure Site 151.3 (E2289), in M. McQuade, B. Molloy and C. Moriarty, In The Shadow of the Galtees: Archaeological excavations along the N8 Cashel to Mitchelstown Road Scheme. NRA Scheme Monographs 4. Dublin.

O’Brien, W. 2004. Ross Island Mining, Metal and Society in Early Ireland. Bronze Age Studies 6, Department of Archaeology. NUI Galway.

Smith B.B., Miller, J. Ramsay, S. 2003. The excavation of two Bronze Age Roundhouses at Townparks, Antrim Town, Ulster Journal of Archaeology 62, 16-44.

About the author

Dr. Charles Mount has been involved in research on the Irish Bronze Age for more than twenty years and has published extensively on the burials, monuments and artefacts of the period. This blog post is based on research he is preparing for a book on the period. You can read more of Dr. Mount’s publications here .

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. Irish Early Bronze Age Houses. The Charles Mount Blog, October 7, 2011.

Version 1.4: revised 7/10/11; 7/11/11; 17/11/11; 22/11/11

The Review of the Record of Monuments and Places.

Monuments like this county Wexford mill could lose all legal protection if post-1700 sites are removed from the Record of Monuments and Places.


In recent weeks the Record of Monuments and Places, which since the mid-1990s has in combination with the Planning and Development Acts been the basis of monument protection in Ireland, has become the focus of attention as a result of a review of the Record being carried out by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The Record of Monuments and Places (RMP) was established under section 12 (1) of the 1994 National Monuments (Amendment) Act and provides that the Commissioners (now the Minister) shall establish and maintain a record of monuments and places where the Minister believes there are monuments, such record to be comprised of a list of monuments and relevant places and a map or maps showing each monument and relevant place in respect of each county in the state. Section 12 (2) provides that the record shall be exhibited in each county. Section 12 (3) provides that when the owner or occupier of a monument or place which has been recorded under subsection 12(1) or any person proposes to carry out, or to cause or permit the carrying out of, any work at or in relation to such monument or place, he shall give notice in writing of his proposal to carry out the work to the Commissioners (now the Minister) and shall not, except in the case of urgent necessity and with the consent of the Commissioners (now the Minister), commence the work for a period of two months after having given the notice.

 The Record is essentially a notification mechanism that functions mainly through the planning system (through policies included in the County Development Plans) to alert the National Monuments Service and other third party planning consultees to development proposals that have the potential to impact monuments in the Record. Steps can then be taken to assess any impacts and have them mitigated as appropriate.

Removal of Monuments from the Record

The legislation establishing the Record has only these three sections and there is no mechanism included in the Act for the removal of a monument, nor has a mechanism been included in any subsequent amendments. In effect once a monument has been placed on the record, as long as it still physically exists, there are no legal grounds for removing it from the Record.

The Definition of a Monument

The definition of a monument is found in section 2 of the National Monuments Act 1930 and includes any artificial or partly artificial building, structure, or erection whether above or below the surface of the ground and whether affixed or not affixed to the ground and any cave, stone, or other natural product whether forming part of or attached to or not attached to the ground which has been artificially carved, sculptured or worked upon or which (where it does not form part of the ground) appears to have been purposely put or arranged in position and any prehistoric or ancient tomb, grave or burial deposit, but does not include any building which is for the time being habitually used for ecclesiastical purposes. There is no date involved in the legal definition of a monument; therefore a monument may be of any date.

National Monuments

The definition of a National Monument is also found in section 2 of the National Monuments Act 1930 and refers to a monument or the remains of a monument the preservation of which is a matter of national importance by reason of the historical, architectural, traditional, artistic, or archaeological interest attaching thereto and also includes (but not so as to limit, extend or otherwise influence the construction of the foregoing general definition) every monument in Saorstát Eireann to which the Ancient Monuments Protection Act, 1882, applied immediately before the passing of this Act, and the said expression shall be construed as including, in addition to the monument itself, the site of the monument and the means of access thereto and also such portion of land adjoining such site as may be required to fence, cover in, or otherwise preserve from injury the monument or to preserve the amenities thereof.

Again there is no date provided in the definition. But the emphasis on historical, traditional and artistic traits clearly indicates that the framers of the Act had in mind that structures of recent historical date could be classified as National Monuments. Indeed a number of post-1700 structures were in fact acquired by the state and preserved as National Monuments. These include monuments such as Michael Collins’ birthplace, Eamon de Valera’s Cottage and Seán Mac Diarmada’s House.

New Government Policy

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht stated in the answer to a Parliamentary Question on 20th September that:

“My Department is currently examining the recording of post-1700 AD monuments with a view to formulating policy and criteria for including them in a revised and updated Record of Monuments. The objective of the review is to achieve a standard approach nationally that will ensure that all elements of the built heritage continue to be adequately protected. (Question No. 312, Ref No: 25004/11)”

The Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland have expressed concern that the review may result in post-1700 monuments being removed from the record. Many structures of post-1700 date have been highlighted on the National Monuments database in preparation for their removal from the Record. Amongst the monuments highlighted for delisting are Michael Collins’ birthplace, Eamon de Valera’s Cottage and Seán Mac Diarmada’s House which are all in the care of the State and appear on the 2009 list of National Monuments issued by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. That these National Monuments are being considered for removal from the Record of Monuments appears to create an anomalous situation. If these structures are not considered to be monuments worthy of inclusion in the Record then should they not also be removed from the list of National Monuments as well? Some would argue that these are National Monuments because of their connection with individuals of importance in the history of Ireland. If these criteria are considered enough to justify these structures as National Monuments, then why not as a Recorded Monuments? And what about all the other structures associated with historic personages and events, are they not monuments as well?

Falling Between Stools

Another issue with the delisting is that an assumption may have been made that all the post-1700 Recorded Monuments have been included in the Records of Protected Structures included in the County Development Plans, but, this is far from the case. For example, Creenagh Bridge, Co. Leitrim LE033-038—- which is marked for delisting, is noted on a map in 1750 and is presumably older. It is not listed as a Protected Structure in the Leitrim Co. Development Plan 2009-15 nor is it included in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. If the bridge is delisted from the Record of Monuments this historic structure more than 250 years old will be stripped of all legal protection. The sweathouse at Kilmore, Co. Galway GA044-073002 is an undated structure that is situated next to a Holy Well GA044-073001- and could be part of a complex of early Medieval monuments. This structure is not listed as a Protected Structure in the Galway Co. Development Plan 2009-15, nor is it included in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. This structure of unknown date situated beside a Holy Well will may be stripped of all heritage protection. Many more monuments once thought worthy of protection will similarly have all legal protection removed under these proposals.


In a press statement issued on the 21st September 2011 entitled “Deenihan Confirms Post 1700 AD Monuments Will Continue to be protected”, the Minister stated:

 “There is no question of the current Record of Monuments and Places being revised until we have completed the review” he added. “When draft policy and criteria for updating the RMP have been developed, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht will consult with interested parties before any decisions are made.”

It is to be sincerely hoped that following the review of the Record of Monuments all elements of the built heritage will continue to be adequately protected as the Minister has said.

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. The Review of the Record of Monuments and Places. The Charles Mount Blog, September 22, 2011.

Michael Collins’ Birthplace to be delisted from Record of Monuments


This gallery contains 3 photos.

One of the anomalies surrounding the proposal by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to delist post-1700 monuments from the statutory Record of Monuments and Places is that some of the monuments indicated for delisting are National Monuments … Continue reading

New Irish environmental regulations require more land restructuring and water management projects be scoped and assessed.

A ringfort forms part of a field boundary near Cam, Co. Roscommon.

The Irish Government has unveiled its approach to amending the Environmental Impact Assessment system to comply with the European Court of Justice ruling C-66/06. The new regulations will require more land restructuring and water management projects be scoped and environmentally assessed.

 The European Court judgement

In November 2008 the European Court of Justice in the case of the European Commission versus the Republic of Ireland (ECJ C-66/06) ruled that Ireland had not adopted all measures to ensure that projects likely to have significant effects on the environment that belong to categories 1a (projects for the restructuring of rural land holdings), b (projects for the use of uncultivated land or semi-natural areas for intensive agricultural purposes); and c (water management projects for agriculture, including irrigation and land drainage projects) of Annex II of Environmental Impact Directive 85/337/EEC (amended by Directive 97/11/EC) were assessed for environmental impacts before consent was given. See the full judgement here .

The court ruled that by setting thresholds which take account only of the size of projects – to the exclusion of the other criteria laid down in Annex III to Directive 85/337 such as:

  • project characteristics,
  • project size,
  • cumulative impacts,
  • the use of natural resources,
  • waste production,
  • pollution,
  • nuisance,
  • risk of accident,
  • project location, and
  • characteristics of potential impacts;

and by not providing for project screening, Ireland had exceeded the limits of its discretion under Articles 2(1) and 4(2) of the Directive and had consequently not adopted all necessary measures to ensure that projects likely to have significant effects on the environment are made subject to a requirement for development consent and to an assessment of their environmental effects in accordance with Articles 5 to 10 of the Directive.

The court also noted that the Irish EIA thresholds of 100 ha in relation to the restructuring of rural holdings and 20ha in relation to water management projects in wetlands were so large that projects below these thresholds with significant environmental impacts would be granted consent without having been subject to Environmental Impact Assessment.

Significance for cultural heritage

The significance of this for cultural heritage is that the European Court noted that Irish studies had established a risk of accelerated destruction of archaeological remains directly connected with projects for the restructuring of rural land holdings and land drainage projects. In fact Archaeological Features at Risk (O’Sullivan et al. 2001), published by the Heritage Council, had found that land improvement (the removal of field boundaries and ditches) and drainage were the overwhelming causes of loss of field monuments in Ireland. The report also found that with the increasing intensification of Irish agriculture the rate of monument loss was increasing.

The Irish Government response

In response to the judgement the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have jointly produced new regulations – the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2011 and the European Communities (Agricultural Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011 – to bring Ireland into compliance with the principles and requirements of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive.

The new Planning and Development (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2011, transfer responsibility for most of the activities covered by the ECJ C-66/06 judgment, such as the re-structuring of fields and removal of boundaries, the use of uncultivated land or semi-natural areas for intensive agriculture and normal field drainage works, to a new consent system that will operate under the aegis of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The new Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food regulations cover the following categories of development:

  • the restructuring of farm holdings;
  • the use of uncultivated land or semi-natural areas for intensive agriculture; and
  • land drainage works on lands used for agriculture, excluding the drainage and reclamation of wetlands, and

propose a new system of screening, to be undertaken by the Department of Agriculture, for environmental impact above certain thresholds for different types of agricultural activity, and the requirement for mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment to be carried out on such projects at a higher level.

The regulations will have impose new thresholds for Environmental Impact Assessment screening and mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment that are set out below:

Category of activity Threshold for Environmental Impact Assessment screening Threshold for consent and mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment
Re-structuring of rural land holdings

  • Length of field boundary to be removed
 500 metres  4 kilometres
  • Re-contouring (within farm-holding)
2 hectares 5 hectares
  • Area of lands to be restructured by removal of field boundaries
5 hectares 50 hectares
Commencing to use uncultivated land or semi-natural areas for intensive agriculture 5 hectares 50 hectares
Land drainage works on lands used for agriculture (excluding drainage or reclamation of wetlands) 15 hectares 50 hectares


Additional considerations will also have to be given to activities that impact on certain sites such as designated Natura 2000 areas, recorded monuments, natural heritage areas and proposed natural heritage areas and other nature reserves, given their environmental and heritage sensitivities.

The only element of the Environmental Impact Assessment system touched on by the ECJ C-66/06 judgment that will be retained within the Local Authority planning system is on-farm development activity that impacts wetlands.  The Planning and Development (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2011 propose an exempted development threshold of 0.1 hectare.  The mandatory threshold for Environmental Impact Assessment of drainage of wetlands will be reduced from 20 hectares to 2 hectares.  Planning permission accompanied by an Environmental Impact Assessment may be required even in respect of drainage below the 0.1 threshold in cases where the drainage would have a significant effect on the environment.

Further reading

O’Sullivan. M., O’Connor, D.J. and Kennedy, L. 2001. Archaeological Features At Risk: A Survey Measuring The Recent Destruction OF Ireland’s Archaeological Heritage. The Heritage Council, Kilkenny.

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. New Irish environmental regulations require more land restructuring and water management projects be scoped and assessed. The Charles Mount Blog, September 15, 2011.

The Journal of Irish Archaeology Volume XIX 2010: Review


One of the highlights of the archaeological year is the publication of the Journal of Irish Archaeology by the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland. This latest volume XIX for 2010 is edited by Prof. James Mallory of Queen’s University Belfast and includes six papers on a variety of topics ranging from prehistory to the post-medieval period. There are papers on the rock art of Loughcrew and George Petrie’s work on megalithic tombs. There are surveys of Inis Airc Island, medieval church altars and the limestone quarries of the Hook Peninsula, and there is also a report on the excavation of early medieval and prehistoric features at Ballyburn Upper, Co. Kildare.

Open-air rock art at Loughcrew, Co. Meath

Elizabeth Shee Twohig, Corinne Roughley, Colin Shell, Ciaran O’Reilly, Peter Clarke and Gillian Swanton

Elizabeth SheeTwohig et al. report on 10 new examples of rock art found in the vicinity of the Loughcrew, Co. Meath passage Tomb cemetery since 2003. They discuss the geology and location of the art and present a catalogue and drawings and review the earlier discoveries. They discuss the repertoire and organisation of the art. In the conclusion they suggest that the open-air rock art and passage tomb art could be contemporary.

Druids’ altars, Carrowmore and the birth of Irish archaeology

David McGuinness

David McGuinness in a paper on the history of archaeology explores how George Petrie’s work on the Carrowmore megalithic cemetery in 1837 and the opening of the Knockmary Tumulus in the Phoenix Park Dublin in front of the members of the Royal Irish Academy lead to the acceptance of megalithic sites as tombs rather than temples.

Reconsidering early medieval seascapes: new insights from Inis Airc, Co. Galway. Ireland

Ian Kujit, Ryan Lash, Michael, Gibbons, Jim Higgins, Nathan Goodale and John O’Neill

Field survey of Inis Airc, Co. Galway suggests that the island with its stone church, graveyards, cashel and possible oratory, holy wells and open air altar may have been an early medieval ecclesiastical settlement.

Settlement and economy of an early medieval site in the vicinity of two newly discovered enclosures near the Carlow/Kildare border.

Nial O’Neill

This is a report of the excavation of an unenclosed early medieval subsistence and manufacturing site as well as the testing of the two hilltop enclosures, one with a large burnt deposit at its centre, and a Bronze Age hut site at Ballyburn Upper, Co. Kildare. The discussion is focussed on the unenclosed subsistence and manufacturing site as this is an indication that not all activity took place within the enclosed farmsteads known as ringforts and cashels.

Altars in Ireland. 1050-1200: a survey

Griffin Murray

This assessment of eight stone alters from the medieval period finds that they were all of a uniform size and shape in order to hold a reasonable number of religious artefacts and that there decoration was influenced by altars of wood and metal.

Between the sea and the land: coastal limestone quarries on the Hook Peninsula, Co. Wexford

Niall Colfer

Niall Colfer discusses the post-medieval industrial limestone quarries of the Loftus Estate of the Hook Peninsula, Co. Wexford. He notes that the stone was used to construct many of the landscape features we see on the peninsula today.

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. The Journal of Irish Archaeology Volume XIX 2010: Review. The Charles Mount Blog, August 25, 2011.

Ireland’s Ghost Estates: Continuing the Historical Cycle of Development and Abandonment

The castle and harbour at Rindown

Ireland’s ghost estates are nothing new. Examination of Ireland’s history indicates recurring cycles of development, failure and abandonment of villages and towns.

In recent years the Irish news has been filled with the struggle with the problem of ghost estates, how to deal with more than 2,800 speculative housing developments that remain empty and may never be occupied. But a landscape of ghost towns is not a new phenomenon, throughout history Irish villages and towns have gone though recurring cycles of development, failure and abandonment. The buildings of the abandoned ghost towns eventually fell into disrepair and then decayed back into the earth leaving nothing but agricultural fields.

Looking at the Medieval period, the thirteenth century was a boom period for development as the new Anglo-Norman lords encouraged English and Welsh settlers with promises of prosperity and civil privileges to immigrate to Ireland and establish new villages and towns. These new settlements initially thrived but in the following centuries large numbers of the towns, like Rindown, Co. Roscommon and Newtown Jerpoint, Co. Kilkenny, were deserted by their inhabitants. Other towns, like Ballysadare, Co. Sligo and Kilcullen, Co. Kildare, moved to new locations. The reasons for the failure of these towns were varied. Incessant ethnic conflict and warfare isolated the towns from their natural hinterlands, discouraged further immigration and drained civic resources, leading to economic decline. In the mid-thirteenth century the plague known as the Black Death reduced the populations of the towns by a third to a half and hastened the decline. The development of new infrastructure, particularly the construction new bridges, also contributed to the failure of towns as commerce shifted to new routes and locations.

Google Earth image of Rindown, Co. Roscommon showing the deserted town now under pasture.

A classic example of a Medieval ghost town is Rindown, Co. Roscommon. Rindown was established in 1227 and consisted of a castle, harbor, church, market with cross and numerous houses all defended by a high town wall with guard towers. The town was very prosperous, imported corn, cloth and wine from as far away as Bordeaux and achieved a high annual rated value of £320. But poor relations with the native Irish population resulted in the town falling victim to isolation and attacks that eventually caused its abandonment. Today the stone castle, church and walls survive but the rest of the town has reverted to pasture land, its only inhabitants are cattle and sheep.

William Petty's 1654 map of County Sligo indicating the location of Ballysadare.

Other towns, like Ballysadare, Co. Sligo and Kilcullen, Co. Kildare, moved to new locations. Ballysadare had developed around St. Feichin’s Abbey to the west of the Owenmore River near the fording point of Ballysadare Bay. In the fourteenth century a bridge was built across the river further east. At some time before 1654 the town moved from its original location to the site of the bridge as is indicated on William Petty’s 1654 map of the area. The original location of the town reverted to farmland with nothing but the stone church of St. Feichin marking its location.

Google Earth image of the site of Old Kilcullen. All that survives today is the church, round tower and crosses. The rest has returned to farmland.

Kilcullen, Co. Kildare was originally situated on a hill top 2.5km south of the River Liffey. The construction of a bridge over the river in the fourteenth century lead to the foundation of the new town of Kilcullen at the bridge. The original town, now called Old Kilcullen, was eventually abandoned in favour of the new location. All that survives at Old Kilcullen today are the remains of a church, round tower and crosses, the rest of the town has disappeared and the fields are now grazed by sheep.

Although Ireland no longer suffers from ethnic strife and plague, cycles of settlement development, decline and abandonment are still driven by migration, economic change and infrastructural development. The modern Irish ghost estates are not unique to our time, but are part of this recurring historical cycle. Like the abandoned Medieval villages and towns that came before them these ghost estates may one day also revert back to farmland.

Dr. Charles Mount is a Cultural Heritage Consultant and Archaeologist with an interest in history. You can read his recent publication on the history of the Medieval manor of Nobber, Co. Meath here.


Further reading

Harbison, S. 1995 Rindoon castle, a royal fortress in Co. Roscommon, Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, 47, 138-48.

O’Rorke, T. 1878. History, antiquities, and present state of the parishes of Ballysadare and Kilvarnet, in the county of Sligo; with notices of the 0’Haras, the Coopers, the Percevals, and other local families.


Cite this post as:

Mount, C. Ireland’s ghost estates: continuing the historical cycle of development and abandonment. The Charles Mount Blog, May 31, 2011.


A new approach to Environmental Impact Assessment in Ireland: Remedial EIA

The European Court

In the next few months a new and unprecedented form of Environmental Impact Assessment, the remedial Environmental Impact Assessment, will be required in Ireland. The remedial EIA is a creation of the Planning and Development (amendment) Act 2010. Section 177F of the Act states that a remedial EIA shall contain a statement of the significant effects on the environment which may have, or reasonably be expected to occur because a development was (authors emphasis) carried out, the details of any appropriate remedial measures undertaken or proposed to be undertaken to remedy any adverse effects on the environment and the time period in which the remedial measures shall be carried out. The remedial EIA will accompany another unprecedented document, an application for substitute planning consent, required under section 177C of the Act.

The reason for the establishment of the new process stems from a decision of the European Court of Justice in July 2008 in the Derrybrien, Co. Galway wind farm case (ECJ 215/06). In that case the court found that Ireland was in breach of the European Union EIA Directive as retention planning permission had been granted to a wind farm development without an EIA being carried out. In fact the practice of granting planning retention permission for developments that would have required an EIA and also for developments which would have required a determination as to whether EIA was required (i.e. screening) was widespread. The result of the decision is that retention planning for developments requiring EIA ceased completely from July 2008. A large number of developments that took place after the transposition of the EIA Directive into Irish Law in February 1990 and were in receipt of retention planning have been left in a difficult legal position. The new procedure of substitute consent and remedial EIA is intended to regularise the position of these developments, both those that required an EIA and those that required screening. Once the developments requiring substitute consent have been identified they will be allowed to submit an application for substitute consent accompanied by a remedial EIS directly to An Bord Pleanála, the statutory planning appeals board, for a decision.

While the Planning and Development Act was passed into law in July of 2010 a number of technicalities have delayed the commencement of the sections dealing with substitute consent and remedial EIA. It has been reported that these will soon be overcome and that part of the Act commenced this summer.

About the author

Dr. Charles Mount is Project Archaeologist with the Irish Concrete Federation where he is dealing with the cultural heritage aspects of the remedial EIA process. You can contact him about this blog at

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. A new approach to Environmental Impact Assessment in Ireland: Remedial EIA. The Charles Mount Blog, May 23, 2011.

What is the Cultural Heritage of Ireland?

Barnderg Tower House

The cultural heritage of Ireland includes a wide array of monuments, objects, landscapes and structures that were produced by the inhabitants of Ireland over the last nine to ten thousand years. The Heritage Act 1995 defines the national heritage of Ireland as including monuments, archaeological objects, heritage objects, architectural heritage, flora, fauna, wildlife habitats, landscapes, seascapes, wrecks, geology, heritage gardens and parks and inland waterways. When we exclude the natural heritage categories such as flora, fauna, wildlife habitats, seascapes, geology and the natural inland waterways (but not the engineered examples) we are left with: archaeological objects, heritage objects, architectural heritage, landscapes, wrecks, heritage gardens and parks and engineered inland waterways such as canals. Landscapes are included because the landscape of Ireland, since the arrival of people in the Mesolithic and especially since the Neolithic farming revolution, has been totally altered by people and is now a cultural artefact.

Looking at each category of cultural heritage we see that each has its own definition, some more legally based than others. The legal definition of a Monument is defined in section 2 of the National Monuments Act 1930 as any a) artificial structure or group of structures, b) any cave, stone or other natural product, that has been carved, sculpted or worked upon or appears to have been purposely arranged, c) any part of any prehistoric/ancient tomb, grave or burial deposit, ritual, industrial or habitation site, and d) any place comprising the remains or traces of any structure, erection, cave, stone or natural product of any tomb, grave, burial deposit or ritual, industrial or habitation sites situated on land or in the territorial waters of the state. This definition is very broad and overlaps with a number of the other categories of cultural heritage such as architecture.

Archaeological objects are defined in section 2 of the National Monuments Act 1930 as any chattel whether in a manufactured or partly manufactured or unmanufactured state which by reason of the archaeological interest attaching thereto or of its association with any Irish historical event or person has a value substantially greater than its intrinsic (including artistic) value, and the said expression includes ancient human, animal or plant remains”. The Irish State has legal ownership of all archaeological objects as a result of the Irish Supreme Court judgement in relation to the Derrynaflan hoard which was applied retrospectively to all archaeological objects found after the enactment of the Irish Constitution in 1922. Section 2 of The National Monuments Amendment Act (1994) gave the judgement a statutory basis.

Heritage objects are all portable examples of material culture that are not covered by the definition of archaeological object. This category can include agriculture tools, papers and archives, clothing, photographs, paintings, pottery, glass, etc.

Architectural heritage is defined in the Architectural Heritage (National Inventory) and Historic Monuments (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1999 as “(a) structures and buildings together with their settings and attendant grounds, fixtures and fittings, (b) groups of such structures and buildings, and (c) sites”.

Landscape comprises the visible features of an area of land, including physical elements such as landforms, living elements of flora and fauna, abstract elements like lighting and weather conditions, but from a cultural heritage viewpoint it is the human elements and the built environment that are most significant.

There are estimated to be about 15,000 shipwrecks lying in Irish coastal waters dating from the prehistoric to the modern period. These wrecks in turn contain archaeological and heritage objects. Notable examples include the remains of the Spanish Armada as well as the Lusitania.

Heritage gardens and parks refers to the historic gardens and designed landscapes that became a feature of the Irish landscape after the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the twelfth century when demesnes were laid out around Lord’s manor houses. They became most common in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and are usually associated with country houses, although there a number of urban examples.

Engineered inland waterways include the canals such as the Grand Canal (Dublin to Shannon Harbour, Co. Offaly), the Royal Canal (Dublin to Cloondara, Co. Longford) and the Shannon Erne-Waterway (Leitrim to Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh) as well as smaller examples such as the Boyne navigation (Oldbridge to Navan).

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. What is the cultural heritage of Ireland? The Charles Mount Blog, May 18, 2011.