A 3,000-year-old, oak road through Mayne bog, near Coole in Co Westmeath is to be protected following an agreement between peat extraction companies and conservationists.
Under the terms of the agreement approved by the High Court, Westland Horticulture Limited, Westmeath Peat Limited and Cavan Peat Limited have committed to cease milling peat near the bronze-age road and establish a buffer zone around it and associated subterranean structural supports.
The agreement also provides for the development of a “bund” to prevent operations elsewhere from dewatering the area around the oak road and structures.
The discovery of the bog road was made in 2005 and the National Monuments Service established it was a grander and far longer oak road than the previously discovered, Iron Age road at Corlea Bog in Co Longford.
While the Corlea bog road contained massive oak planks wide enough for two chariots to pass side by side, the Mayne bog road is larger again, measuring up to 6m in width, and dating to 1200-820 BC – making it a 1,000 years older than Corlea.
Reported by a member of the public in 2005, an excavation was undertaken by the Department of Environment in 2006 and a carbon dating of 1200 -820 BC obtained.
In 2010 Friends of the Irish Environment raised the issue of planning permission with Westmeath County Council. The Council referred the issue to Bord Pleanála which in 2013 ruled that peat extraction, which had enjoyed an exemption from planning permission, was no longer exempt due to the implementation of European law.
Westland took a judicial review of Bord Pleanála’s decision and won a stay on the planning requirement pending a full hearing.
However, a hearing of the case has been delayed by the State’s commitment to produce new legislation providing a permit and licensing system for peat extraction, which would be overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency.
In 2015 The Irish Times reported that the Bronze Age road was being “ turned into potting compost”.
Earlier this year Friends of the Irish Environment asked the High Court to lift its stay on the planning requirement but agreed to drop its action in return for a commitment to immediate preservation of the bog road.
Precise details of the preservation measures are to be agreed between the parties over coming weeks. However, a copy of the Court approved agreement, seen by The Irish Times shows the peat companies have agreed to "not carry out any works along the routes of the "toughers" or "bog road" within a setback to be agreed between the parties.
Local archaeologist Aiden Walsh said he was delighted with the agreement. Mr Walsh, who has campaigned for the conservation of the road, said the National Monuments Service should step in and formally list the bog road as a national monument. He said it was difficult to understand why this had not been done already.
“All along, we have suggested that a community heritage and tourism facility should be developed at Mayne to tell the story of this find and there is support for this proposal. We suggested a ‘light touch’ unmanned outdoor interpretative facility, similar to that at Glendalough and at Ballycroy county Mayo, using elevated wooden walkways to view the bog and interpretative illustrated panels to tell the story of the road. We will now press the case for intervention of this kind.”
Westland Horticulture was asked to comment last Friday but a spokeswoman said the relevant commentator was not immediately available. A comment is expected.