Vandals target our ancient heritage with graffiti, fires and theft
Eighteen cases of damage or vandalism to national monuments have been reported this year, with historical sites such as the Hill of Tara and An Grianán of Aileach targeted.
A log of incidents from the Office of Public Works (OPW) details ceremonial fires being lit, the setting up of altars, holes being dug, graffiti and even vandalism of Covid-19 signage.
Five separate instances of damage or vandalism were reported at a single site, the Neolithic passage tombs of Loughcrew, Co Meath.
At the Hill of Tara, two separate instances were reported in which parts of the monument were damaged.
In one, the top of the Lia Fáil — or Stone of Destiny — monument was covered with a substance, believed to be a “water-based paint”, according to the log of incidents.
At the Mound of the Hostages passage tomb at the Hill of Tara, OPW records showed the entrance to the chamber gate was damaged and the lock removed.
In Co Kilkenny, around the ninth- century Killamery High Cross, holes were dug on the site. They were later filled in by OPW workers.
Masonry was reported to have been moved from the ruins of a Romanesque church in Co Kerry.
The incident took place at Teampall na hÓige in Ardfert, with “repairs carried out and vulnerable areas of the structure hoarded off”.
Serious damage was reported at the 5,000-year-old Fourknocks Tomb at Stamullen, Co Meath, where there was a forced entry to the burial chamber.
At Rathcoffey Castle in Co Kildare, “serious removal” of stone within the monument was also reported, according to the log.
Ongoing problems at Duleek Church and Tower in Co Louth were reported, with damage done to headstones and graffiti left on the heritage site.
The OPW said this was part of a pattern of “anti-social behaviour on grounds of the monument which are being used as a drinking area”.
At the Loughcrew complex near Oldcastle, Co Meath, which is believed to date from the fourth millennium BC, a series of incidents was recorded.
Between February and July, numerous instances of vandalism to kerbstone artwork on two cairns were reported.
In February, a Covid-19 public health sign was stolen from the site, while damage was reported to a “counter unit” earlier this year.
During April, graffiti was scratched on “elements of the various passage tombs”, while in June, a “little altar” was set up at two cairns, with one of them damaged by a fire.
In July, the Covid signage thieves were back and scraped graffiti into another cairn.
Other incidents recorded by the OPW include damage to an unnamed abbey church site, where locks were damaged and youths climbed into the monument by bending window rails.
At the Beltany Stone Circle in Co Donegal, small fires were lit within the circle in March, although no damage to the monument itself was reported.
The OPW said topsoil and grass sod at the site had been renewed to repair the damage.
Two incidents were reported at the site of An Grianán of Aileach in Donegal, with one Covid-19 sign ripped up into four pieces.
A more serious incident was also recorded, in which gorse was burned along the boundary fence.
A note said: “Location is being monitored, if the fence degrades then the fence will be replaced or renewed.”
A spokeswoman for the OPW said there had been recent increases in reports of damage to archaeological monuments and that a joint operation was under way to try to halt the incidents.
“Some of the damage is caused by visitor behaviour and a lack of awareness of the significance of the monuments,” she said.
An information campaign during the summer ran online to “address a lack of understanding of the impact that certain behaviour has on archaeological monuments”.
The spokeswoman added: “The focus of the campaign was to raise awareness of the value, importance and uniqueness of Ireland’s archaeological heritage, together with conveying the key messages for visitor behaviour at archaeological monuments.”