Friday 21 September 2018

'Absolutely thrilled' - Ancient Irish field system wins prestigious international award

Céide Fields wins Carlo Scarpa Prize

Ceide Fields, Co.Mayo
Ceide Fields, Co.Mayo
Ancient bog oak on display in the Ceide Fields Visitor Centre, North Mayo. Photo: Peter McCabe/Fáilte Ireland
Céide Fields, County Mayo, showing the impressive Domestic enclosure. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan
Ceide Fields, Mayo. Photo: Alison Crummy/Fáilte Ireland
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Mayo's Céide Fields is described as "the most extensive Stone Age Monument in the world", but receives just 30,000 visitors a year. 

That could be set to change, given this week's announcement that the heritage site has won the prestigious Carlo Scarpa Prize for Gardens.

Awarded by the Italian Fondazione Benetton Studi Ricerche, the prize highlights, studies and cares for sites rich in natural, historical and creative values.

Running since 1990, recent winners including the Jardin de Cactus on Lanzarote and The Wild Apple Forests of the Tien Shan in Central Asia.

"We're absolutely thrilled, honoured and privileged," said Gretta Byrne, Manager of the Céide Fields Visitor Centre, speaking by phone from Italy.

She described the win as "a huge boost" for the Céide Fields, the OPW, staff, the local community and all who had been involved in a remarkable story.

Ancient bog oak on display in the Ceide Fields Visitor Centre, North Mayo. Photo: Peter McCabe/Fáilte Ireland
Ancient bog oak on display in the Ceide Fields Visitor Centre, North Mayo. Photo: Peter McCabe/Fáilte Ireland

"This is not like any other heritage site," Byrne added.

"It's an experience of a place, a unique Neolithic farmed landscape dating back almost 6,000 years and preserved under the blanket of bog.

"It's hugely important in archaeological terms as the only existing farmed landscape from this time period in Europe. Plus, it has a dramatic location on the edge of the 110m Céide cliffs. It's a combination of all of those things.

Uncovering a "fossilized landscape"

Hidden beneath the soil for millennia, the modern story of the Céide Fields began when a local schoolmaster, Patrick Caulfield, first noticed lines of stones while cutting turf in the area - around 8km west of Ballycastle - in the 1930s. 

40 years later, his son, now retired UCD archaeology Prof. Seamus Caulfield, returned with students to begin excavating the site in earnest.

Céide Fields, County Mayo, showing the impressive Domestic enclosure. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan
Céide Fields, County Mayo, showing the impressive Domestic enclosure. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan

"When he stripped off blanket bog / The soft-piled centuries / Fell open like a glib," as Seamus Heaney wrote in his poem, Balderg.

Heaney famously described the site as "a landscape fossilised".

Today, visitors will find evidence of Stone Age field systems, dwelling areas and megalithic tombs surrounding an award-winning visitor centre, developed in the 1990s by the OPW together with Prof. Caulfield and the local community.

A highlight of a visit is a walking tour with the centre's guides - who bring the site, and thousands of years of Irish history, to life.

Sustainable tourism

90pc of the 30,000 annual visitors to the Ceide Fields are independent travellers, according to the OPW, and it's often described - together with this wild stretch of Northern Mayo coastline - as a hidden gem.

"It’s fantastic to see this area receive international attention," said Anne Marie Flynn, Manager at Mayo North Promotions Office.

"The Céide Fields is just one of many attractions of historical and cultural importance in North Mayo and we hope it inspires more people to visit Ballycastle and experience it for themselves," she added. 

"This award will propel this wonderful heritage site, which is older than the pyramids, onto the world stage and bring it to a wider audience to enjoy and cherish for future generations," said Kevin “Boxer” Moran, Minister for the OPW.

The Carlo Scarpa Prize will be accompanied by an exhibition in Treviso, Italy, along with a book and a TV documentary, on May 12.

NB: The Céide Fields visitor centre opens from March 29 to November 1, 2018. For more info, call 096-43325 or see heritageireland.ie.

Read more:

Three Irish destinations shortlisted for EU sustainable tourism awards

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