How to protect and maintain monuments on your farm

Every townland and nearly every farm in the county has one or more monuments on it and farmers are obliged to maintain them.

These archaeological features often give rise to the townland or area name, i.e. Liskeavy (Ring or Earthen Fort), Cahervoneen (Stone Ring Fort), Kilkee (Church/Graveyard).

Farmers have always been regarded as guardians of the environment. This includes monuments and archaeological features within their environment and on their holdings. In the last few decades increased mechanisation and farm intensification has led to the removal or damage to some monuments but thankfully the majority of archaeological structures remain as they have been for centuries.

In recent years, civil engineering projects have led to the removal of some monuments. This is unfortunate; however such is the price of progress. Archaeological features in the path of motorways or roadways are removed after an archaeological survey and excavation. Any artefacts found are put on public display at local public or CountyCouncil Buildings.

Each civilisation has left its own indelible mark on the rural landscape. Despite the passing of the ages, the monuments and historic stones remain across the countryside of Co. Clare, proof of the progress, development and faith of our forefathers.

Remains of ancient tombs, standing stones, rock engravings, ringforts, promontory forts, ruins of early Christian settlements, holy wells, round towers, ruins of castle and keeps, medieval settlements and enclosures, lisheens, ruins of gaols and military barracks etc. all adorn the agrarian countryside.

The recent Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) programme heightened farmer’s awareness of archaeological structures and their function in times long past. The REPS schemes also showed farmers how to protect and preserve historic features for the future. The REPS 3 finished in 2011 and REPS 4 will finish in 2014/2015, but these monuments still remain protected by law under the National Monuments Act. It is hoped that the forthcoming GLAS Agri-Environmental scheme, to be launched later in the year, will contain measures dealing with the protection and preservation of archaeological features.

The introduction of Cross Compliance in recent years has laid down a number of rules and regulations in relation to retaining and preserving monuments. The range of penalties on Single Farm Payment, Disadvantaged Areas Scheme, REPS4 and Agri-Environmental Options Scheme etc for damaging archaeological features can be as high as 100%, depending on the damage and on the inspector’s report. These monuments cannot be removed, disturbed or ploughed etc.

Farmers with historic features on their land or holdings should consider the following:

  • Keeping back at least 30 metres from monuments when ploughing or using heavy machinery.
  • Avoid erosion of earthen banks by livestock by regulating the stocking rate and stock type.
  • Removal of invasive weed species such as briars, scrub, thistles, nettles. These weeds should be spot sprayed or cut with a strimmer.
  • No storing of farmyard manure on areas of archaeological importance.
  • Before reclaiming any marginal land, check for the presence of ancient sites and prehistoric structures.
  • No dumping of waste material on or near monuments.

Any farmer that is unsure of the presence or the function of any archaeological features on their holdings can check with the Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) which is available at Local Authority Buildings, Libraries and Teagasc Offices.

Anthony O Connor, Teagasc Adviser, Galway/Clare Regional Unit.

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