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The chief of the service addressed the damage done to Carrowkeel passage tombs. Alamy Stock Photo
Passage Tomb

National Monument Service could consider closing public access to sites after vandalism in Sligo

Gardaí and the OPW have both opened investigations into the damage caused.

LAST UPDATE | 16 Oct 2023

THE CHIEF OF the National Monument Service Michael MacDonagh said it will consider “all options”, including closing public access to historic landmarks, after an ancient passage tomb in Sligo was vandalised.

Damage to the Carrowkeel passage tombs, a neolithic and historic landmark in Co Sligo, was was discovered yesterday – after words and images were scratched into the stones.

In a statement to The Journal this evening, a spokesperson for An Garda Síochána confirmed that gardaí are now investigating an incident of criminal damage.

The Office of Public Works (OPW) also have opened an investigation into the matter.

A garda spokesperson said: “A technical examination of the scene has been conducted by the Divisional Scenes of Crime Unit. Investigations are ongoing.”

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s News At One this afternoon, MacDonagh said incidents of vandalism and damage, particularly graffiti, to sites across the country has been increasing.

The damage to the 5,300-year-old tomb was discovered by photographer and prehistoric archeology researcher Ken Williams on Saturday afternoon.

While visiting the tombs, he came across the scratchings on the interior walls of the farthest tomb from the site’s entrance. 

Carrowkeel passage tomb 3 The passage tomb vandalised at Carrowkeel Ken Williams Ken Williams

“They (the group) did a tour there in the morning, and I went up in the evening. They didn’t go into the passage tomb that I found this in because it’s the furthest one away, and it’s actually really awkward to get to. 

“You have to crawl in on your hands in knees and it’s wet and dirty. So it’s horrible crawl into it.”

He said that a stone which formed the entrance to a cairn had also been knocked over. 

Carrowkeel passage tomb 4 Spirals scratched into the stone at the passage tomb Ken Williams Ken Williams

“I mean, you’re not going to just ramble in. You’d have to know that it is a passage tomb and that you really wanted to go inside. So whoever did this seems to have gone there deliberately to do it,” he said. 

It seems like it’s definitely a deliberate attack as far as I can see,”

MacDonagh said that the service will be conducting its own investigation into the damage to determine how permanent it is but stressed that the “vast amount of people who visit the many national monuments” are respectful towards them.

“It is only a few who caused these problems and we will pursue them with the greatest of rigor,” he told the programme.

Carrowkeel passage tombs Graffiti on the stones of Carrowkeel Passage Tombs in Sligo. Ken Williams Ken Williams

The site has been inspected by the OPW this morning, a spokesperson said this evening.

The National Monument Service is expected to inspect the site during the week to prepare a damage report for forwarding for gardaí.

“Such interference is a serious offence and can lead to significant penalties being imposed,” an OPW spokesperson said today.

“The OPW and NMS rely on public support for the protection of the national heritage estate, particularly in being vigilant in reporting damage to monuments as with the vandalism at Carrowkeel.

“Public support is essential in order to foster greater understanding and appreciation of the need to conserve such an integral part of Ireland’s historic environment,” they added.

MacDonagh said similar damage was done to the Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery last year and the service are seeing an increase in the number of incidents in recent years.

In August, The Journal reported on damage done to The Deer Stone monument in Glendalough in Co Wicklow, after a fire was lit near the stone and caused extensive damages.

“It will be an awful shame for the people of Ireland and the many visitors who respect these monuments for sites to be closed off,” MacDonagh said.

It’s difficult to see what can be done. But, we’ll be looking at all options and if those options do include having to close off entrance into the tombstone, that is something that we’ll be considering.”

MacDonagh said that it seems as though the vandal had entered into the tomb, which the National Monument Service advises not to do so in the interest of public safety.

“But where one has a will, there is a way to enter into them. But again, it must be stressed the vast amount of people to all our national monuments fully respect their antiquity, their significance in the fact they are burial monuments,” he added.

Signs warning visitors not to do so have been vandalised as well befor and have since been replaced, the OPW said this evening.

Includes reporting from David MacRedmond

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