Farmer fined for destroying ring fort

 

A JUDGE has imposed a fine of €25,000 on a farmer in north Kerry for irretrievably destroying an ancient ring fort on lands he had bought just two months earlier. Ownership of property was a right, but this right was “not unfettered” and it was qualified by the fact that property was held in trust for the culture of the country, the judge warned.

Imposing the “significant penalty”, Judge Carroll Moran said he was taking into consideration a second charge of the destruction of a souterrain, or ancient underground passage, associated with the fort on lands occupied by John O’Mahony (64) at Clashmealcon, Causeway, in February 2008.

Prosecutor Tom Rice said the destruction of the fort, a recorded monument, was the more serious issue.

He also told the court the remaining parts – one-third of the fort and “what remained” of the souterrain – were subject to a preservation order.

The prosecution was brought under the National Monuments Amendment Act 1994 and 2004 and was on failure to notify the authorities of a proposal to carry out works near a monument and it carried maximum penalties of five years in prison and/or a €50,000 fine.

O’Mahony had pleaded guilty in November but sentencing was adjourned to allow scrutiny of his financial records. O’Mahony had 20 hectares of land and had a herd of 31 milch cows and 35 dry stock.

The stock value was about €50,000 and the assets, including lands and buildings, were valued at €350,000 in 2009, while machinery was valued at €3,000.

O’Mahony’s taxable income was €14,786 in 2008, €5,440 in 2009 and under €5,000 in 2010.

A series of ring forts had been built in north Kerry between AD 500 and 1000 as well as souterrains linking them, the judge noted. O’Mahony had bought the land in December 2007, two months before the destruction, and had paid €100,000 for it and put the land into his son’s name, the judge said.

Gardaí were made aware on February 19th, 2008, that work had been carried out.

The farmer told the gardaí he had ordered the fort to be demolished and an associated pond filled in to avoid a hazard to cattle and children.

“The ring fort and souterrain are gone – they cannot be restored and are irretrievably lost,” the judge said.

At one point O’Mahony said he was unaware of the monument’s existence but this could not have been the case “because in November 2006, in a letter, he objected to a planning application by the then owner. And one of his grounds for objection was that ‘there was a historical ring fort on the lands’,” the judge said.

The judge said O’Mahony was “a modest farmer” of 44 acres of “not the best land”.

He had no previous convictions and he had pleaded guilty.

“He has destroyed a monument which is over 1,000 years old,” the judge said. There was a constitutional right to property, but this was “not unfettered” and legal rights were qualified by the fact it was held in trust for one’s neighbours and community and “for the culture of the country”.