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Antiquity 76 (2002), 01.06.2002

Archaeology in Ireland - The Irish Heritage Council

by Charles Mount


The Heritage Act 1995 established An Chomhairle Oidhreachta, the Irish Heritage Council, as a statutory body with responsibility to propose policies and priorities for the identification, protection, preservation and enhancement of the Irish national heritage. The Heritage Act defines heritage as including both cultural and natural heritage and specifically refers to: monuments, archaeological objects, heritage objects, architectural heritage, flora, fauna, wildlife habitats, landscapes, seascapes, wrecks, geology, heritage gardens and parks and inland waterways.

The Heritage Council's function is to promote interest, education, knowledge and pride in, and facilitate the appreciation and enjoyment of the national heritage, co-operate with public authorities, educational bodies and other organizations and persons in the promotion of the functions of the Council, and promote the co-ordination of all activities relating to the functions of the Council. The Heritage Council may make recommendations to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, the Gaeltacht and the Islands (AHGI) on any matter relating to the Council's functions. The Council is also a statutory planning consultee under the Planning Acts. The Council has a complementary role to the other state agencies involved in Heritage, such as Dúchas the Heritage Service, and the other sections of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, and the National Museum of Ireland; and is a member of the Council of Cultural Institutions.

The organizational structure consists of the Heritage Council, with its Chair, and its members who are appointed by the Minister for a term of five years. Four Standing Committees on archaeology, architecture, wildlife and inland waterways are mandated by the Heritage Act. They are made up of members of the Heritage Council, who chair by rotation, three

Ministerial appointees, and co-optees. Four additional committees have been established, dealing with Museums and Archives, Education and Awareness, Audit and Finance and the Marine. The Council is responsible for all major strategic and financial matters, structural development, procedures and performance review, whilst the committees perform functions delegated by the Council and advise the Council on strategy and actions in their functional areas. Working Groups carry out specific time-limited tasks for Council or Committees.

The permanent staff consists of a Chief Executive and professional staff including an archaeologist, architect, ecologist, marine biologist, planner, museums officer and archives officer, education and communications officer, grants officer, personnel officer, a financial controller, grants administrator and five support staff.

The first Council served from 1995-2000 and the current Council will serve until 2005 (also see Eogan, this volume). The medium-term strategy of the organization is developed in the form of a five-year plan (Heritage Council 2001) covering the years 2001-5, which is agreed by the Minister for AHGI, and has been developed within the context of the National Heritage Plan (NHP) which is due to be published by the Minister in 2002. The Council's plan lays out a programme of activities and includes indicative funding targets. On the basis of this plan each professional officer, in consultation with the relevant committee, produces and implements an annual work plan. The organisation's funding comes from two sources. Administrative expenses, 12-6% of total expenditure, is funded from the exchequer. All other funding comes from the National Lottery.

In 2002 the Council has a total budget of €11-089 million, with €1-862 million for archaeology. As the staff structure is very small the organization attempts to focus on strategic issues and commissions work from a network of consultants. The organizational challenge is to assess priorities against organizational resources and capabilities, leverage these capabilities to coordinate the activities of the network of consultants and local authority heritage officers (see below), manage the knowledge of the network and disseminate it widely to influence public policy and public opinion to achieve the aims of the organization and its stakeholders.

Heritage officers

In partnership with local authorities the Council has facilitated the appointment of heritage officers to 18 local authorities. These are part-funded by the Council and the local authority. Heritage officers are employees of local authorities but the Heritage Council has a level of influence and control over their activities and direction. The Heritage Council co-ordinates and provides support for the Heritage Officer Network.

The function of heritage officers is to promote enhanced levels of understanding, conservation and preservation by improving the status and perception of heritage in their local area. Heritage officers gain knowledge and expertise of each heritage discipline through the Heritage Officers Training and Development Programme. They promote the policies of the Heritage Council in tandem with addressing the needs of their local authority and they are, for example, involved in the formulation of Local Heritage Plans (LHP) in the context of the National Heritage Plan. LHPs are intended as agreed, realistic and costed plans which establish how a local authority, in association with its partners, will identify, protect, preserve, conserve and manage the heritage of its county. They generally cover a five-year period, identifying action priorities and including a mechanism for review and evaluation. LHP Guidelines have been prepared by the Heritage Council with full input from the existing heritage officers. To date, LHPs have been adopted by Dublin City and Offaly, Laois and Sligo Co. Councils.

Policy development

One of the Council's primary functions is to propose policies to government. To date the Council has proposed policies on The Future of Ireland's Inland Waterways, Agriculture and the National Heritage, State Sector Expenditure on Heritage, The Role of the Heritage Council in the Planning Process, Forestry and the National Heritage, Urban Archaeology and the National Heritage, Heritage Awareness in Ireland and Integrated Policies for Ireland's Landscape. Over the medium term it is intended to propose policies on marine and coastal heritage, freshwater ecology and water quality, geology, industrial heritage, archives, thatching, monitoring and arresting the destruction of historic places, conservation of heritage buildings in public ownership, the conservation of rare breeds, interaction with non-governmental organizations and access to historic buildings.

Heritage appraisal

The Heritage Council has developed a methodology for Heritage Appraisal (HA) of plans, policies and programmes. A HA helps to ensure that the full scope of heritage considerations is dealt with comprehensively and consistently throughout the preparation of any plan or programme. It is an iterative process, intended to help to modify a plan or programme as it is developed, in order to avoid or reduce harmful effects on heritage and to maximize potential benefits for heritage. To date HA has been used to examine County Development Plans, Local Area Plans and a number of road schemes have been assessed as well as the National Road Authority's guidelines on project management.

Landscape approaches

Since 1999 the Council has been involved in the development of a strategy for managing the cultural and natural landscape (Heritage Council 1999). This has been facilitated through the establishment of the Landscape Working Party that has had representation from government departments and agencies, local government, the universities and stakeholder groups. This group commissioned Environmental Resource Management to carry out the Co. Clare Landscape Characterisation, which lead to the development of a policy document, Towards Integrated Policies for Ireland's Landscape, which was submitted to the Minster for AHGI in 2000. This year the Council intends to proceed with the commissioning of the second stage Co. Clare landscape assessment. The Council is also involved in a European collaboration involving 12 projects in 10 countries (Germany, Sweden, Italy, Denmark, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, England, Ireland and Wales), European Pathways to Cultural Landscapes, which is funded by the Culture 2000 programme of the European Union (see www.pcl-eu.de). The main goal of the project is to explore opportunities for public participation in their local cultural landscapes in poor areas of Europe, and to share experiences and approaches to the subject across the European Union. In the Irish Dowris Project, which is a partnership between the Heritage Council and the Discovery Programme, Eoin Grogan is applying Historic Landscape Characterisation to a study area in the Irish midlands (FIGURE 1).

Other initiatives have included the Archaeological Landscape Project (Gabriel Cooney and Tom Condit) based in University College Dublin, which has been looking at identifying the historic component of the Irish landscape.

Conservation plans

The Council has been advocating the use of conservation planning in an Irish context (see Kerr 2000 and Heritage Lottery Fund 1998). Over the last few years the council has facilitated conservation plans for the Romanesque doorways and associated buildings at Clonfert, Co. Galway and Freshford, Co. Kilkenny, as well as the Early Christian monastic site at Durrow, and Lemanaghan Co. Offaly, Portlaw, Co. Wa-terford, Bear Island, Co. Cork and a number of monuments in Kilkenny City and county including the Bishop's Palace, the City Walls, the 16th-century buildings of Rothe House, St Mary's Medieval parish church (FIGURE 2) and the deserted medieval town of Newtown Jerpoint.


The Heritage Council grant-aids projects in six areas, repairs to historic buildings, local heritage, museums and archives, publications, wildlife, and archaeological research and dissemination projects. In the past archaeological research projects have looked at the development of techniques to radiocarbon-date cremated human bone, dental anthropology, 19th-century pottery industries, the geological origin of stone used in the Boyne Valley passage tombs, the use of hydraulic lime in the medieval period, as well as a number of excavation publication projects based in National University of Ireland (NUI) Cork and Galway which have focused on synthesising the urban excavation data of Cork and Galway.

The Galway Excavations Project, for example, was established by Elizabeth FitzPatrick and Paul Walshe in 1999 in the Department of Archaeology, NUI Galway. The publication project is concerned with the excavations carried out in Galway City since the 1980s. Galway has experienced intensive development since 1987 following the initiation of the Urban Renewal Act, 1986. During the period 1987-1998, 72 licensed excavations took place in the city, conducted by some 25 different directors.

The project will produce a monograph detailing every excavation undertaken in Galway City during the period 1987-1998. Within this format it is intended to organize excavations thematically, such as sites dealing with the town defences or habitation. A single finds catalogue is planned which will indicate the context of each find with an historical overview and discussion of the excavated data. The project is funded by the Heritage Council, and is supported by Galway Corporation and the National University of Ireland, Galway.


Since 1996 the Council has produced 44 publications, ranging from reports on The Introduction of a Standards and Accreditation Scheme for Irish Museums, An Assessment of Farming Prescriptions Under the Rural Environment Protection Scheme in the Uplands of the Burren Karstic Region, Co. Clare, to Review of Urban Archaeology Research. Most publications may be consulted on the Council's website at <www.heritagecouncil.ie>. The Coun-cil has also grant-aided 96 non-Council publications since 1998 under the publications grant scheme.

The activities of the organization are extremely broad and the remainder of this article will survey the archaeological activities, which focus on three main strategic areas: managing the archaeological resource, archaeological practice and research and dissemination.

Managing the archaeological resource

The archaeological resource, and the landscape of which it forms a part, are the primary material resource of Ireland, as well as a primary cultural resource which contributes to the distinctiveness and sense of place enjoyed by everyone in Ireland and the millions of people who visit Ireland each year. The archaeological resource is coming under greater threat in Ireland today than at any other time in History. The Heritage Council recognizes the need to preserve both the material and intellectual archaeological resource. As a first stage in accomplishing this the Council embarked on a strategy of acquiring widespread baseline data and information on the current condition of and threats to the archaeological heritage to inform strategy. This information was intended to replace the largely tacit and anecdotal data that had prevailed before this.

The rate of site loss and erosion

Examination of a sample of 2-2% of the land area of the State comprising 1-4% of the monuments in the Statutory Record of Monuments, indicated that 34%, or 478 out of 1400 monuments in the study areas, identified since the fieldwork of the Ordnance Survey in the 1820s and 1830s, have been levelled (FIGURE 3) (O'Sullivan et al. 2001). 11% of the sites have been levelled since the completion of the field-work for the Archaeological Inventories in the 1980s, suggesting that the rate of loss may be increasing (FIGURE 4).

Examination of a sample of 112 stone monuments of all periods in 14 counties by Pavía & Bolton (2001) concluded that 11% showed strong structural damage, involving a danger of collapse, 22% showed strong structural decay and 27% showed mild structural damage. About one-third of the monuments with carved sculptural detail showed significant loss of carved detail. This is particularly affecting Irish Romanesque sculpture (FIGURE 5).

Combating site loss

The Council is continuing the survey work on monument loss and stone monument decay and has initiated research on earthwork management; identifying the best means of physically safeguarding the remaining earthwork monuments in Ireland, including monument complexes and medieval deserted towns. It is intended to translate this research into a series of best practice guidelines for farmers, other landowners, agricultural advisors and landscape managers in relation to how best to manage earthworks.

Over the next 15 years the numbers of full-time framers is forecast to reduce dramatically (Downey 2001: 9-10) which will lead to a large-scale reorganization of the Irish landscape with a move to smaller numbers of larger farm holdings. In recent years the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS), which forms part of the Rural Development Regulations and is part-funded by the European Commission, has been developed to encourage farming practices which reflect increasing concern for conservation, landscape protection and wider environmental problems (Department of Agriculture and Food 1999: 2). The Council is investigating ways of providing greater protection to the archaeological resource through agri-environmental schemes such as the REPS.

In recent years there has been an international trend towards grading or evaluating aspects of the archaeological heritage. This has sprung from the need to prioritize protection and resources towards the conservation/protection of monuments of recognized value. The Irish National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (carried out by Dúchas) has, for example, made evaluation a core aspect of its work. The Heritage Council is now exploring the appropriateness of grading archaeological monuments in Ireland. The Council's objectives are to ascertain the appropriateness, at this time, of developing and implementing the parameters and the applications of grading schemes for monuments to ascertain in what particular circumstances grading may be appropriate and what criteria might be useful for evaluation, as well as the impact grading schemes might have on monument protection, conservation and preservation.

Another approach has been to communicate directly with the development sector. To accomplish this guidelines were prepared for the Heritage Council by the ICOMOS Irish Committee. The aim was to produce a better understanding of the needs of archaeology in Ireland and to improve co-operation between developers (with their consultant archaeologists, architects, engineers and planners) and the statutory authorities in protecting the archaeological heritage. The guidelines are intended to be complementary to the published policies of the Minister for AHGI on the protection of the archaeological heritage. This initiative was supported by a media campaign which included articles in the business press (e.g. Mount 2001) dealing with archaeology and development.

Archaeological practice


The Council, in Partnership with the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland, is moving towards the development of a strategy for continuing professional development (CPD) in Irish archaeology. This is partly aimed at moving from mode

1. knowledge production, with its separation of knowledge producers and consumers, to mode

2. knowledge production, with its emphasis on knowledge production in the context of application (Gibbons et al. 1994). This is a matter of urgency as the scale of infrastructure development has been placing an increasing burden on the profession as a whole (FIGURE 6). The first stage has been the commissioning of a profile of the archaeology profession and a study of archaeological education and training resources in the Republic of Ireland (CHL 2002). The second stage is to survey third-level courses and other courses or systems of archaeological training for archaeologists and associated specialists in Ireland; to survey the recipient bodies of the graduates from these institutions, seeking their views of the quality of the graduates, courses, etc.; and to analyse the current competence requirements of Irish archaeology and identify any gaps, areas for improvement, etc. The study is also examining the projected human resource requirements for the profession, and particularly for the management of licensed excavation work required to deliver the National Development Plan on a year-by-year basis over the next 5 years and beyond. This study has estimated that 650 archaeologists are currently working in Ireland, north and south, and has estimated that the demand will rise to between 880-1100 over the medium term to 2007.

It is hoped that the development of a strategy for CPD will contribute to addressing some of the issues raised by Lambrick & Spandl's (2000) report on Urban archaeological practice in Ireland, Johnson's (2000) report Urban archaeology research and the study by Lambrick & Doyle (2000) on Archaeological assessment and monitoring procedures in Ireland.


The unpublished excavations survey 1930-97 The cycle of archaeological data acquisition and its synthesis into useful knowledge has been badly affected by the unprecedented upsurge in archaeological work of the last decade. The Council commissioned Oxford Archaeology to survey rapidly the unpublished excavation reports in Ireland from 1930 to 1997, and assess their significance and quality (Doyle et al. 2002). The report noted 3168 reports during the period of which 1353 were noted as unpublished. The report assessed the significance of the reports classifying them on a scale of 1-5 (1 = national significance and 5 = no significance). 421 reports were placed in classes 1 and 2. This framework is now being used by the Council to develop initiatives to encourage the cycle of archaeological synthesis and knowledge creation and dissemination through appropriate media. In 2002 the Council is funding 8 projects involving 165 individual sites through the excavations initiative.

The Discovery Programme

The Discovery Programme (DP) is wholly funded by the Heritage Council (see Waddell 1997: 513-18 and Eogan this volume), and the Council makes key appointments to the Directorate of the DP, including the Chair, Prof. Michael Ryan. The Heritage Council has approved a three-year plan for the DP that will see it through 2004. The Council is also co-operating with DP in a European Project (see above) which is developing common approaches to landscape research sand management amongst projects in 10 member states.


Over the medium term the main challenge facing archaeology in Ireland will be to stretch and leverage itself to mitigate the threats presented to the archaeological resource, and to make the most of the enormous opportunities for knowledge creation presented by large-scale infrastructural expansion. To date the Heritage Council has played a role in quantifying the scale of the challenge and the opportunity it presents, and providing advice to Government on structural and procedural reforms. To some extent archaeology in Ireland, and throughout Europe, has become a victim of its own success, as investigation has become a routine part of the development process. This has allowed archaeologists to wield considerable resources and influence in the development process. Yet it has become evident to many, including government and the commercial sector, that these increases in resources are not leading to a commensurate increase in knowledge. At the same time, the focus on development-led archaeology has obscured the need to manage Ireland's sites and monuments in the face of large-scale landscape reorganization. If archaeology in Ireland is to maintain its privileged position into the future, then it must quickly rise to the challenge of structural reorganization and professional development so that the advances made under the Celtic Tiger economy are consolidated.

Article published in: Antiquity 76 (2002), 485-492.


CHL. 2002. Future demand for archaeologists. Unpublished report for the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland and the Heritage Council. Dublin: CHL Consultants.

DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE & FOOD 1991. Rural Environment Protection Scheme. Agri-environmental specifications, revised 1 January 1999. Dublin: Government of Ireland.

DOWNEY, L. 2001. The future science &• technology needs of the agricultural & food industries and rural communities. Inaugural Lecture 20 November 2001, in celebration of the Centenary of the Faculty of Agriculture, University College Dublin. Dublin: Teagasc.

DOYLE, I.W., D. IENNINGS, I. MACDERMOTT, D. CHALLINOR & G. LAMBR1CK. 2002. Unpublished excavations in the Republic of Ireland 1930-1997. Kilkenny: The Heritage Council.

LAMBRICK, G. & I.W. DOYLE. 2000. Review of archaeological assessment and monitoring procedures in Ireland. Kilkenny: The Heritage Council.

GIBBONS, M., C. LIMOGES, H. NOWOTNY, S. SCHWARTZMAN, P. SCOTT & M. TROW. 1994. The new production of knowledge. London: Sage.

HERITAGE COUNCIL. 1999. Policies and priorities for Ireland's landscape. Conference papers. Tullamore, Co. Offaly, Ireland, April 1999. Kilkenny: The Heritage Council.

2001. The plan 2001-2005. Kilkenny: The Heritage Council.

HERITAGE LOTTERY FUND. 1998. Conservation plans for historic places.

JOHNSON, G. 2000. Review of urban archaeology research. Kilkenny: The Heritage Council.

KERR, J.S. 2000. Conservation plan. A guide to the preparation of conservation plans for places of European Cultural Significance. 5th edition. Australia: The National Trust.

LAMBRICK, G. & K. SPANDL. 2000. Urban archaeological practice in Ireland. Kilkenny: The Heritage Council.

MOUNT, C. 2001. Property development and archaeology, Business and the Environment, Business and Finance Supplement, March 2001: 25.

O'SULLIVAN, M., D.J. O'CONNOR & L. KENNEDY. 2001. Archaeological features at risk. A survey measuring the recent destruction of Ireland's archaeological heritage. Kilkenny: The Heritage Council.

PAVI'A, S. & J. BOLTON. 2000. Stone monument decay study 2000. Kilkenny: The Heritage Council.

WADDELL, ]. 1997. Ireland's Discovery Programme: progress and prospect, Antiquity 71: 513-18.



The area between the Shannon and Little Brosna Rivers in the south Midlands,
Co. Offaly, showing major landscape changes in the 19th century AD.

The main goal of this project is to explore opportunities for public participation in their local cultural landscapes, and to share experiences and approaches on the subject across the European Union. The project is a joint venture involving 12 projects in 10 countries (Germany, Sweden, Italy, Denmark, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, England, Ireland and Wales), making this the largest project funded under the Culture 2000 programme.

The Irish component (The Dowris Project) addresses the assessment of the later prehistoric landscape of the central Midlands of Ireland covering an area of about 9000 sq. km. The principal goals of the work are to develop an accessible understanding of the development of later prehistoric landscape and society in this region, using a form of Historic Landscape Characterisation.

Phase 1 consisted of a pilot study (see above) that was carried out in the area around the findplace of the eponymous Late Bronze Age Dowris hoard in Co. Offaly. Using a combination of new and existing digital data the study reconstructed broad landscape changes from the end of the last Ice Age to the present. (Rebecca Boyd, The Dowris Project, PCL, The Discovery Programme.)

The vandalism to the tomb of Elias Shee (c. 1613) at St. Mary's Graveyard, Kilkenny.

The site of a removed trivallate Early Christian ringfort. (Photo O'Sullivan et al. 2001.)

Graph showing cumulative destruction over time of the monuments included in the Archaeological Inventory. (From O'Sullivan et al. 2001.)

The Romanesque carvings at Ardmore Cathedral, Co. Waterford are decaying. (Photo Pavia & Bolton 2001.)

Graph illustrating the exponential increase in archaeological excavations in Ireland to 1997.
In the year to October 2001 there were over 1069 excavation licences issued. (From Lambrick & Doyle 2000.)

design: Kai M. Wurm
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