Landfill hearing reopens on concern that site is prehistoric 'sacred place'

 

AN BORD Pleanála yesterday reopened a two-year-old oral hearing into proposals for a major regional landfill on a 600-acre site at Nevitt in north Co Dublin.

The board said the re-opening was in response to concerns from academics that the site may be the location of a pre-Christian, "large-ditched enclosure of the Tara or Navan kind".

Addressing the inquiry yesterday, board inspector Des Johnson outlined a series of submissions between academics and the Department of the Environment, since the first hearing closed in October 26th, 2006.

The department had voiced concern that Nevitt "could be a site of exceptional importance" and "possibly a site of national importance". The submissions centred on the name Nevitt being the Celtic word for "the sacred place", suggesting an archaeology richer than had been estimated by the environmental impact assessment (EIA), commissioned by Fingal County Council.

Dr Richard Warner of the Royal Irish Academy, former keeper of antiquities at the Ulster Museum and authority on placenames, told the inquiry he had not been aware of the controversy about the landfill until he heard the name.

Addressing the hearing yesterday, Dr Warner said too little attention had been paid by the EIA to the relevance of the place name, which he said was derived from the old Irish "Nemed" which "can only mean sacred place". This was the only place in Ireland with this name, which could only mean a place of great importance, he said.

Dr Warner said the overwhelming implication was a built or dug structure and was likely to have been a substantial built shrine, a collection of small sacred sites "or a very large ditched enclosure of the Tara/Navan kind".

The area's potential had been reported by Dr Conor Newman of NUI Galway, who found the area rich in Roman-British artefacts.

Dr Warner questioned the adequacy of the assessment's methodology, which used a "magnetometer" to detect archaeology. He argued the magnetometer was used on 15 per cent of the site.

But consultant archaeologist George Lambrick told the hearing the EIA had no significant weaknesses. He said: "The most significant archaeology is more likely to be protected . . . with no clear evidence to support the hypothesis that a potentially important prehistoric sacred place might remain undetected."