Dowth Hall redevelopment was opposed by Government

Department warned against changes to house built above 5,000-year-old tomb

Archeologists with the agri-technology company Devenish and UCD School of Archeology have unearthed a significant passage tomb cemetery beside Dowth Hall in Co Meath. Video: Bryan O'Brien

a
 

The Department of Heritage originally opposed plans for the redevelopment of the protected 18th-century house at Dowth Hall in Co Meath, which was built above a 5,500-year-old Neolithic burial mound described this week as “the most significant megalithic find in Ireland in the last 50 years”.

The department wrote to Meath County Council in November 2016, shortly after the house’s owners applied for planning permission to significantly extend and renovate the house, to say it had concerns about the negative impact of the plans on the site’s “architectural heritage significance”.

Planning files show the department recommended that the council refuse to grant permission for the work on the house, built in the 1760s for the Netterville family, for heritage-related reasons.

The department’s intervention came before the discovery of the large passage tomb on the land, just beneath the house. The tomb is believed to be half the size of nearby Newgrange, the best known of the monuments on the Brú na Bóinne Unesco world heritage site.

While welcoming in principle the proposal to conserve and restore the house, the department noted in its 2016 letter that Dowth Hall was on the council’s list of protected structures. It said it was “the single most important structure” in the Brú na Bóinne site, and it suggested alterations to the plan.

The house and its 430-acre site was acquired by the agri-tech company Devenish in 2013. The company runs a research farm dedicated to “sustainable agriculture” on the lands.

Dowth Hall is being renovated as a family home for the company’s executive chairman Dr Owen Brennan and his wife Prof Alice Stanton and their family.

The proposed alterations include restoration of the roof, the demolition and replacement of two single-storey wings and extensive renovations, to include a gym, a cinema and TV room, an orangery and sunken terraces.

Meath County Council granted planning permission on November 30th, 2016, within weeks of the department’s letter.

An archaeological impact assessment prepared in 2015 by Devenish’s lead archaeologist for the site, Dr Clíodhna Ní Lionáin, said the concentration of enclosures and other features in the area “strongly suggests that the immediate environs of Dowth Hall are an area of very high archaeological potential”.

The extent of that potential was not discovered until archaeologists from Devenish and UCD began work on the site in May last year.

‘No concerns’

Asked following the public unveiling of the burial mound on Monday if it had any ongoing or new concerns about the redevelopment of Dowth Hall, the Department of Heritage said the plan had received “all planning consents from the local authority” and that it had “no concerns about the ongoing works”.

“The owners have engaged fully with the production of a conservation plan relating to Dowth Hall and the lands on the Dowth estate, including extensive geophysical surveys and research excavation in conjunction with the school of archaeology at UCD,” it added.

“In terms of the discovery of the passage tomb cemetery, announced on Monday, this is being managed extremely satisfactorily and responsibly by the owners, who have followed advice and guidance given by the National Monuments Service of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and continue to do so.”

The department said the archaeological remains will be preserved in situ and that a design team was engaged in developing “a creative design to address the conservation and presentation of the passage tomb cemetery in such a way that access can be provided to the public at certain times.

“While the provision of access to the public is, of course, at the discretion of the owners, the owners fully appreciate the great public interest in the discovery and are generously allowing the public to visit the ongoing excavations during [National] Heritage Week at the end of August, and the site will open to the public on occasions throughout the year to ensure these remains can be appreciated by many.”

a