There are concerns of an “increasing trend” in vandalism and interference with ancient sites across Ireland, the Office of Public Works (OPW) has said.
There have been more than 70 reports of damage to monuments so far this year, a spokeswoman for the OPW said, with the National Monuments Service usually receiving between 100 and 120 reports throughout the year.
There are more than 145,000 recorded archaeological monuments around the country in private and public ownership, with human activity going back 10,000 years.
Ring forts and passage tombs were among the monuments damaged from acts such as burning, graffiti and antisocial behaviour.
The most recent high-profile example was at the Neolithic burial monument at Loughcrew in Oldcastle, Co Meath, some weeks ago, the OPW said.
The scratching of graffiti across elements of the various passage tombs was “the latest in a series of acts of vandalism” at the national monument site which is accessible year-round to the public, the OPW said.
Investigations were carried out to determine any appropriate measures that may be taken to mitigate the damage and assist gardaí in their investigation.
Recently, too, the remains of Kilmashogue Wedge Tomb in the Dublin Mountains were scrawled with graffiti, it said.
A new campaign by the OPW and the Department of Heritage has been launched to raise awareness ahead of a busy outdoor summer, with more people expected across the sites.
Examples of archaeological monument types in Ireland include megalithic tombs, stone circles, standing stones, rock art, ecclesiastical enclosures, churches, graveyards, ringforts, souterrains, crannógs and castles.
“Ireland has over 145,000 recorded archaeological sites and monuments spread across every town, parish and townland, meaning we are never far from a special place that provides us with a tangible link to our ancestors and our past. The rate of survival of Ireland’s archaeological and architectural heritage is unique and something to be proud of. We all have a role to play in ensuring its survival for present and future generations. I encourage everyone visiting a heritage site or monument this summer to be mindful of how their actions might impact these sites or monuments,” Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan said.
Typically the National Monuments Service receives between 100-120 reports of damage to monuments per year, the OPW said. This may range from reports of illegal metal detecting damage to graffiti, burning of fires, as well as large-scale damage.
However to date in 2021, 76 reports have been reported, indicative of what the monuments service believes is “an increasing trend”.
Illegal metal detecting is a particular worry as there are regular reports of such activity to both the National Monuments Service and the National Museum of Ireland, who are working jointly to try combat it.
In the first half of this year, seven illegal metal detecting incidents have been reported to the National Monuments Service, including damage at national monuments in State care, the OPW spokeswoman said.
Information on the awareness campaign is available here.