Losing Aughrim

 

A chara, – The current National Monuments Acts do not provide any protection for historic battlefields. Minister for the Environment John Gormley, of course, could remedy that with the inclusion of a few words in his proposed new act. That he should do so is beyond question.

The issue is brought into focus now by the re-appearance of Mulvany’s painting, The Battle of Aughrim. (Front page and Weekend Review, October 2nd). The battlefield, although comparatively well preserved since the battle, is being gradually destroyed. In the absence of legislation under the National Monuments Acts, the only State agency that can protect Aughrim is Galway County Council. But that agency, through its inaction, and worse, its actions, has been the leading destroyer of the historic site.

Ármhá Eachroma, the battlefield of Aughrim was the site of the “last decisive battle in Irish history”. On Sunday evening, July 12th, 1691 the fate of Ireland was decided. At least 7,000 men were killed. The 2,000 or so Williamites were buried, probably in mass graves on the battlefield. The 5,000 or so Irish dead were left unburied for over a year. In common with Culloden, where the numbers were much smaller, the entire battlefield is in fact a great cemetery. At Culloden, the Scottish authorities have shown great sensitivity and have removed from the battlefield an important road which was constructed years after the battle. About 40 years ago, Galway County Council drove a new road right through the area of the Aughrim battlefield in which some of the most notable events occurred. In doing so they cut through field ditches which may have been part of the defensive works constructed before the battle by the Irish army.

More recent destructive actions of the same State agency include designation under planning legislation of an area within a radius of 500 metres of the village of Aughrim as an area suitable for commercial and housing developments. That entire area is within the battlefield. During the final years of the boom, several hacienda buildings were constructed well outside the 500-metre radius, on the unspoilt Irish line of battle near the location of the scene depicted in Mulvany’s picture.

Only the combined campaigning of nationalists and northern unionists, in the new spirit of reconciliation, reduced somewhat the adverse effects of the Dublin-to-Galway motorway which was opened recently. The involvement of unionists in that campaign is an indication of the great significance of the site and its importance for reconciliation.

Legal protection and sensitive and suitable development of the battlefield over a period of time could create a major visitor attraction and provide valuable employment. It could improve and build relationships between communities and provide a focus for further co-operation. It does not require immediate expenditure, just legal protection and the beginning of a long-term plan. What will Mr Gormley do about it? – Is mise,

MAOLSHEACHLAINN Ó CAOLLAÍ,

Bóthar Bhartúin Thoir,

Baile Átha Cliath 14.

Madam, – Congratulations on providing your readers with a chance to see John Mulvany’s massive work, and a special thanks to Niamh O’Sullivan on the outcome of her long search. – Yours, etc,

HARRY WILLIAMSON,

Ashley Park,

Bangor,

Co Down.