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Vanishing Past

Vandalising of monuments 'as much a concern' as climate change impact

Heritage experts warn of the effect of mindless damage as Noteworthy reveals historical sites across Ireland attacked at least 140 times in past three years.

VP Top - Vandalism

VANDALISM OF MONUMENTS is as big a concern as climate change, according to experts, as new data exposes the toll of mindless attacks across Ireland.

Figures obtained by Noteworthy reveal protected sites have been attacked at least 140 times in the last three years.

Among the ancient areas targeted are megalithic tombs, sacred sites and historic abbeys, according to data obtained from the Office of Public Works (OPW).

The attacks, recorded between 2021 and 2023, include graffiti sprayed on buildings, damage etched into stone work and locks regularly broken off secured buildings including churches.

Reports included an attack on Carrowkeel passage tombs in Co Sligo last year, where words and images were scraped into the 5,300 year-old stones.

This was “a very significant case” and “was very damaging”, Ian Lumley, An Taisce’s heritage officer, told Noteworthy.

Heritage experts now say the repeated man-made damage should raise as much worry as the effects of climate change on Irish landmarks.

This includes Lumney who said: “The impact of vandalism on monuments is as much a concern as the climate impact on monuments or ongoing weathering and erosion.”

Noteworthy, the crowdfunded community-led investigative platform from The Journal, supports independent and impactful public interest journalism.

Power tools used

Of the vandalism incidents recorded by OPW, some related anti-social behaviour such littering or fires being lit on the grounds of heritage sites and monuments.

In total, 82 historic sites were targeted by vandals including an attack on a gravesite in Co Kilkenny.

OPW records reveal a headstone was “smashed” into three pieces at St Mary’s church in the town of Callan in November 2022. Window panels were also damaged in the same incident.

In May last year, a water font belonging to a medieval Franciscan friary in Co Leitrim was broken and had to be repaired.

This damage to Creevelea Abbey, which dates back to the 16th century, was reported to gardaí, according to OPW records.

Local representatives previously called for CCTV to be installed at the site due following a number of incidents of anti-social behaviour.

carrowkeel-passage-tomb Some of the damage to one of the ancient Carrowkeel passage tombs in Co Sligo Ken Williams Ken Williams

In Co Louth, masonry has been stolen from a Norman castle so many occasions, OPW was forced to install permanent warning signs at the site.

The incidents at Castle Roche, one of the country’s most recognisable Anglo-Norman castles, were all reported to gardaí.

Tombs at Co Meath’s Loughcrew site, home to ancient tombs from 4,000 BC, have also been the subject of regular vandalism reports within the last year.

In one attack, a lock to one of the cairns was cut with a power grinder.

OPW staff have since welded metal covers over the locks to protect the vulnerable site.

Education needed

Lumley said the vandalism appears to be mostly carried out by younger people and stressed that better education was needed to address the issue.

He said: “If you spray historic stonework, that requires chemical treatment to remove.”

Schemes such as the Heritage Council’s ‘Adopt a Monument’, which allows communities to access help, expertise, mentoring and support to preserve monuments in their areas, were cited by Lumney as being very “effective”.

“And that’s the sort of an initiative that’s very important to promote a sense of so that there are local eyes and ears watching out and protecting monuments.”

members-of-the-public-look-at-graffiti-on-the-lia-fail-standing-stone-which-is-also-known-as-the-stone-of-destiny-on-the-hill-of-tara-near-skryne-in-county-meath-picture-date-wednesday-february-8 Members of the public look at graffiti on the Lia Fáil standing stone PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo / Alamy Stock Photo

Last year, the National Monuments Service expressed worry that Ireland’s historic monuments are being increasingly targeted by vandalism and attacks following incidents at two of the country’s most renowned sites.

The famous Lia Fáil stone- also known as the stone of destiny – was graffitied with the word “fake” in blue paint in February 2023.

The stone is believed to have been used in the crowning of ancient kings in Navan.

In August vandals attacked Glendalough’s ancient Deerstone by lighting a fire in the 1,000 year-old national monument.

Substantial damage was caused to the bowl-like granite slab, associated with St Kevin of Glendalough.

Read how coastal erosion will wipe out many ancient seaside sites >>

Have a listen to The Explainer x Noteworthy podcast on our findings


Are Ireland’s historic sites at risk of disappearing?

By Patricia Devlin of Noteworthy

Noteworthy is the crowdfunded investigative journalism platform from The Journal. This project was proposed and funded by our readers alongside significant support from our investigative fund

What’s next? We want to expose if Ireland’s museums are hoarding historically stolen goods. Help fund this work >>

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