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Sean Mc Connell outlines a plan to create a Boyne Valley Archaeological Park.

The proposal to create a unique National Archaeological Park in the Boyne Valley, built around the historic monuments there, some of which are older than the Pyramids, moved a step closer this week with the announcement by the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Mr Noel Tracey, that the Government had approved the project in principal.

The proposed park is to be located on a 700-acre site centred on the remarkable archaeological complex, which embraces Newgrange and the other famous megalithic tombs of Knowth and Dowth.

Senator George Eoghan, Professor of Archaeology at UCD, who is a member of the committee carrying out a detailed study of the proposed park, said yesterday that the concept of a national archaeological park was unique. The concept of the landscape as a monument is tremendous, and will create something very special for visitors and for archaeologists.

The whole purpose of the park would be to ensure the preservation of the archaeological remains there and the protection of the setting of those monuments, while at the same time catering for the strong tourist and education potential of the area, he went on. Senator Eogan said the proposal for the unique development on this ­ one of the most archaeologically important sites in the world ­ had first been put forward by the National Monuments Advisory Council, which went out of existence some years ago. He revived the idea through the Royal Irish Academy and formed a committee which then put the idea to the present Government in a report form. The Government, through the Office of Public Works had acted quickly on this report.

Senator Eogan is currently on a project committee with representatives from central and local government, the semi-state and academic sectors. Members of the committee are Noel Lynch, director of the National Parks Service, OPW; Frank O'Brien, Meath County Manager: Keith Sargeant, planning adviser to Board Failte and Mr Brendan O' Riordan, director of the National Museum. To date we have looked at the geographic problems facing the idea. The OPW owns about 50 acres of the site and we are looking at access to the river, he said.

It's a novel approach ­ looking at the landscape as a monument rather than looking at single monument in isolation. On this site our concept may have validity, he said. Visually these tombs ­ and there could be up to 50 of them on the entire site ­ are linked, and they probably had a much wider ritual or processional use. It's not unlikely that there were processions from the tombs in Stone Age days. What we envisage, a possible trail, will probably be consistent with usage in prehistoric times.

He said that when he talked about development of the site he was talking about sensitive development from an archaeological point of view, and yet there was no intention of turning the park into a sterile area, we want tourists and archaeologists and interested people to come to the area, but we also would like to see farming continue as it most certainly did back in the Stone Age.

The people who came to worship or bury their dead in this sacred place four or five thousand years ago would have seen cattle and sheep and perhaps farming. We want modern man to see these things too, he stressed.

He said that already 90,000 people visited Newgrange every year and the creation of the park would obviously increase the number of visitors. This, in turn, would create jobs in the local tourism industry. In addition ­ and I don't want to be snobbish about this ­ this development is also very important from an archaeological scholarship point of view, said the Senator.

Included in the site, would be the recently excavated Monknewtown site, and it was envisaged that more archaeological work on the other sites would take place in conjunction with other development work. It was frequently forgotten, Senator Eogan went on, that Newgrange was built before the Pyramids. People came to this sacred area to bury their dead, but also to worship and to live and work their farms. It was undoubtedly an area for ritual.

We know that it was used in the Iron Age and in the Bronze Age circular areas were built and people remained there. There is also evidence of Roman activity ­ even though the Romans probably did not come there, they did have contact with the people who lived there, he said.

Until the 9th Century Knowth was a political centre, being the capital of a portion of Brega, and it was an important area down to medieval times, he added.

A spokesman at the Office of Public Words said yesterday that it would not be possible at this stage to say when development work at the National Archaeological Park would begin.

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