Potential archaeological site in Co Kerry damaged by development company

Kippagh Developments failed to submit archaeology monitoring report for Lissivigeen plot

Lissivigeen Stone Circle, Killarney, County Kerry, also called the Seven Sisters, are surrounded by a 1m high hedge. Photograph: Valerie O’Sullivan

Lissivigeen Stone Circle, Killarney, County Kerry, also called the Seven Sisters, are surrounded by a 1m high hedge. Photograph: Valerie O’Sullivan

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The placenames that litter the lands that stretch eastwards north of the River Flesk outside Killarney all the way to the Paps Mountains and south to Mangerton carry the history and stories of millennia.

Everywhere, names refer to ancient fields of galláns, or standing stones that contain, or once contained, monuments of historical value. At Lissivigeen, there is a stone circle, with standing stones standing 3m high.

Known also as the Circle of Seven Sisters, it represents the seven daughters of Ernmas, and mother goddess of the Tuatha Dé Danann, including Banba, Fodla and Ériu, alongside the war goddesses, Badb, Macha and Anann.

Within a mile, or so, there is another less dramatic place, perhaps, but with links, too, to Celtic mythology in Cronin’s Wood, as the lands have been known since the 1840s, though its formal address today is the more prosaic Spa Road.

Five years ago, county archaeologist Dr Michael Connelly reviewed a planning application to build 94 houses on the mixed woodlands, 55m from the ringfort marked as KE066-070 in the Recorded of Monuments and Places list, compiled by the National Monuments Service.

Then, Connolly said there was a strong likelihood – “probability” was the word he actually used – that the woods around the ringfort held “sub-surface archaeological features” that needed to be examined, and protected where necessary.

Last August, however, Kerry County Council staff visited only to find that the site had been “stripped of all top soil”, while the ground levels had been “reduced considerably” across several locations on the eight hectare plot.

There had been damage too to the protected high-banked ring fort, but who caused that is not known and it may have been historic, a subsequent archaeologist’s report for the county council noted.

Lissivigeen Stone Circle in Killarney, Co Kerry. They are commonly found across northern Europe and Britain and typically date from the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age eras, with most concentrations appearing from 3000 BC. Photograph :Valerie O’Sullivan
Lissivigeen Stone Circle in Killarney, Co Kerry. They are commonly found across northern Europe and Britain and typically date from the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age eras, with most concentrations appearing from 3000 BC. Photograph :Valerie O’Sullivan

‘Unauthorised development’

Last Tuesday, before Killarney District Court, Kippagh Developments Ltd of Ballyleigh, Leamlara, Co Cork pleaded guilty to two summonses brought by Kerry County Council.

The council’s solicitor Gerard MacSweeney told Judge David Waters that the council simply did not know what had been lost in Cronin’s Wood, but there were a number of historically-important artefacts in the vicinity.

Kippagh Ltd admitted that on October 20th last that it had failed to comply with an enforcement notice on September 18th, by not submitting an archaeological report as required by condition 16 of their planning permission, an offence under Section 154 of the Planning Acts.

The company pleaded guilty also under Section 151 of the Planning Acts that on August 19th, 2020, they had failed to comply with planning permission by not having submitted an archaeology monitoring report and had therefore carried out “an unauthorised development”.

Condition 16 of the planning permission granted to the company in 2017 stated that “all ground works including tree root removal as part of the general felling shall be archaeologically monitored under licence from the National Monuments Service.

Meanwhile, a report should be submitted to the planning authority on conclusion of the monitoring in order to “protect and preserve any archaeological artefacts”, the planning condition stated.

In court, solicitor for the company Padraig O’Connell said Kippagh Ltd was involved in the construction of a large housing estate, and it immediately put its hands up, when it became aware of the damage.

“There was total co-operation. The company has very good relations with the planning department and the council and it sincerely regrets what occurred.” Mr O’Connell told Judge Judge Waters. A new planning application will now have to be lodged, he went on.

Judge Waters convicted on both summonses, imposing fines of 2,000 Euro on each. He awarded legal costs of Euro 500. Both fines and costs are payable to Kerry County Council, the judge said.

Unusual case

The case against Kippagh was an unusual one for the council to take. Normally, unauthorised developments are prosecuted under Section 160 of the Planning Acts, resulting often in protracted Circuit Court proceedings.

However, Damien Ginty, Kerry County Council’s senior planner and ecologist, said the local authority is increasingly monitoring planning conditions, particularly when it comes to archaeology.

Buffer zones around monuments are also increasingly looked at because this is often where there will be finds. “It’s treated very seriously by us,” he told The Irish Times, speaking after the court ruling.

There are approximately 8,500 known monuments indicated for Kerry on the Record of Monuments and Place, but the full number could run to 12,500 across the county, according to Dr Connolly

Kerry County Council has also listed 19 Archaeological Landscapes, while zones of protection are in place to ensure that the unique character and setting of these monuments are preserved and protected.

It has requested buffer zones to be maintained by developers, setbacks from monuments, and in some cases a partial redesign of development proposals. In some cases, permission has been refused because of the risks, says Ginty.

However, the national legislation is weak. Often, European Union-ordered legislation that is place to protect habitats and wildlife is stronger than the laws that exist to protect monuments and heritage.

Nobody knows how much has been lost across the State, or even what is still there anymore – though the records that do exist suggesting that there under 32,800 ring forts are likely to be an over-estimate.

Often, though, farmers report being told by heritage authorities that they have monuments sites on their lands that have been removed, often long before the current owner had anything to do with the land.

However, the switch to intensive farming of the 1970s, followed by the construction of major road networks has accelerated the decline, even if it opened up the opportunity for archaeologists to sift through earth unturned for millennia.

The future, though, could be worse than the past, says Dermot O’Brien of the Irish Beef & Lamb Association (IBLA), who lives among a number of spectacular and well-tended ring forts in Firies just north of Killarney.

New rules due to come into force under the next round of the Common Agricultural Policy ignore heritage, he argues, since it does not put its protection on the same level as the protection of habitats.

The Rural Environment Protection Scheme – better known as REPS – and GLAS encouraged farmers to protect and, often, restore archaeological features.