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Sunday 16 December 2018

Dr No: academics fight to save slice of Pierce Brosnan's childhood

Archaeologists have joined opposition to proposals for the route near 15th century Athlumney Castle

Controversy: The boundary road and wall at Athlumney Castle in Navan. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Controversy: The boundary road and wall at Athlumney Castle in Navan. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Louise Walsh

It was described by Pierce Brosnan as a place that was part of his "five-year-old's memory" - and now noted archaeologists have rowed in behind opposition to plans for a cycle route through a protected national monument.

Opposition is building against plans to fell 22 trees and demolish and relocate 300 metres of old stone walls near the 15th-century Athlumney Castle. The area also contains a 12th-century Norman motte, a 13th-century church ruins and a site where a Viking fleet is reputed to have landed.

'James Bond' star Brosnan posted a photo of the Athlumney Castle area in Navan, Co Meath, during a recent visit to his native town with his wife Keely Shaye Smith.

Now the former Keeper of Irish Antiquities Dr Eamonn P Kelly and Maynooth University's Dr Michael Potterton have joined the Save Navan Heritage Group with concerns over the plans.

Locals say they understand the need for better transport options and are very much in favour of cycle lanes but not at the expense of built heritage and well-established trees and eco-systems.

Navan's municipal councillors are due to vote on the plans in the coming weeks.

Dr Kelly, who undertook extensive excavations in Navan for more than 30 years from the 1970s, has called for a more comprehensive archaeological assessment for the area.

"I am very concerned that the proposed development may impact negatively on a location that is known to contain archaeological remains of national and international importance," he said. "There is clearly an important complex of archaeological sites and monuments at Athlumney, some of which are poorly understood and the overall scope and scale of which remains unknown."

Dr Potterton said: "These surviving structures are very significant - not just in isolation from each other, but as part of an archaeological complex, the integrity of which it is incumbent upon us, as custodians of this cultural heritage, to protect, preserve and promote.

"Any development that compromises these structures and their environment must be avoided."

After Brosnan visited his home place near the site, he said on Instagram: "On summers' evenings, my grandfather Philip Smith would walk up the lane hand in hand as the last slow rays of sunshine fell through the canopy of trees.

"This road that Keely and I stand on is a part of my five-year-old's memory. (My grandfather) was the only father figure I knew. He believed in me."

Navan-native and UCD archaeologist Clare Ryan, who is currently supervising the recent excavation findings at Dowth Hall in Meath, has expressed her "serious concerns" over the plans.

"Athlumney Castle is a national monument and has the same protective legislation as Newgrange and the Hill of Tara - no works can take place within this area without ministerial consent from the National Monument Service.

"I'm very much in favour of cycle lanes but not at the expense of built heritage and well-established trees and eco-systems.

"Felling 22 mature trees is surely environmental vandalism," she added.

Some locals said they were completely unaware of the scale of destruction proposed to accommodate this cycle lane.

Irish Independent

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