Delisting historical structures

 

Sir, – As a university-based archaeologist with a research specialisation in the archaeology of the post-medieval period, I wish to express my extreme dismay over the recent proposal by the Government to remove all post-1700 archaeological monuments from the Record of Monuments and Places, thereby removing any chance of protection from a significant class of monuments that have already been recognised under law as worthy of record. The built heritage of the last 300 years makes an incalculable contribution to cultural life on the island, as well as a quantifiable contribution to the tourist economy. Sites of the last 300 years speak directly to today’s population and to the historical memories of the global Irish diaspora.

Over the last decade, Irish archaeologists have worked exceptionally hard to gain recognition for the period and the importance of post-medieval monuments. Historical archaeology is now routinely taught in all of the island’s universities. Thousands of hours have been spent meticulously recording the remaining traces of the abandoned houses and villages that evoke memories of Famine and emigration; the mills and factories where generations of Irish workers toiled; the railways, canals, roads, and bridges built by Irish labourers that connected town and country; the holy wells and ruined churches where families and communities worshipped over centuries. Are these sites really of no value, when they so viscerally connect today’s population with personal pasts?

The argument that sites be removed from the register in order to regularise the number across the country is spurious. That there are more documented industrial sites in Co Cork than Co Donegal is simply a reflection of historical realities. Should Viking-era sites in Co Dublin be removed from the register because of their scarcity in Co Sligo? What makes a site of 1701 less intrinsically significant than one of 1699? In Northern Ireland, sites post-dating 1700 are regularly added to the Sites and Monuments Record. Such practice is in step with heritage legislation around the globe.

I stand with my colleagues in the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland and the Irish Post-Medieval Archaeology Group in protest against this short-sited proposal, and urge the Government to recognise and indeed celebrate the cultural and economic value of the archaeological record of the last 300 years through maintaining the listing and promoting the addition of post-1700 sites on the Register of Monuments and Places.

– Yours, etc,

Prof AUDREY HORNING, School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen’s University Belfast.