Cashel rocked by new development

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 4 (Jul/Aug 2009), News, Volume 17

The Rock of Cashel in summer 2008, before the recent works carried out on the Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann heritage centre . . .. . . and (below) after. (Richard O’Brien)

The Rock of Cashel in summer 2008, before the recent works carried out on the Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann heritage centre . . .
. . . and (below) after. (Richard O’Brien)

In 2008 Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann applied for planning permission to Cashel town council to enhance their local Brú Boru heritage centre at the foot of the Rock of Cashel. The Development Applications Unit of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government wrote to Cashel town council on 24 June 2008, seeking further information in the form of an archaeological impact assessment (AIA) before a planning decision was made. This was to include a visual impact survey, with views to and from the Rock of Cashel, using a photomontage to illustrate the report. They further recommended archaeological testing of the site.
The visual impact assessment was to be included on the application for ministerial consent for any work on the site, as required under section 14 of the National Monuments Acts 1930–2004. The letter containing these fairly basic archaeological requirements arrived at the offices of Cashel town council on 25 June. But the deadline for submitting observations was the day before (24 June), and the planning authority granted permission for the development without incorporating the conditions recommended by the department—staggering incompetence by the department of state tasked with policing heritage-related developments, but there was worse to come.
In November 2008, Clancy Construction Ltd began works on behalf of Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann. Instead of using the local carpark for their equipment and stores area, they proceeded to demolish the hedgerow along Rock Lane beneath the Rock itself, move onto the Rock and turn the land into a construction site. All these works were carried out on land not included in the planning application, and on land not belonging to Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann. No archaeological investigation was carried out prior to this happening and, obviously, there was no visual impact survey. Correspondence at the time with the National Monuments Section of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government confirmed that the works could continue and that no ministerial consent was required. The only stipulation was that an archaeologist would monitor the ground reinstatement at the end of the works.

2Now, over seven months later, the north-eastern portion of the Rock of Cashel is still a building site. It is surprising that not a single journalist or academic has brought this desecration to national attention. It appears to me that the Rock is simply taken for granted. It is a cash cow for the OPW (250,000 visitors annually), and outside the citadel walls the lands fall under no control or supervision. There is no management plan to monitor proposed developments that would impact on the Rock. After all, the Rock is a national monument of international reputation, being a candidate site for World Heritage Status. A visitor to Cashel today will observe some of the appalling developments that the town council has allowed to be built in full view of the Rock. To add insult to injury, the Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann development is being funded by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, and if Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann, itself a heritage body, can do this to the Rock, then it’s a free-for-all when it comes to further planning applications around the site.
Some key questions need to be answered by the minister for the environment. Why did his department take so long in submitting their observations on the planning application—this is the Rock of Cashel after all? Why did South Tipperary County Council’s enforcement officer not issue a cessation order on these works? Who allowed the developers onto a site not included under the grant of planning? How far exactly is the national monument designation around the Rock of Cashel, considering that the department appears to be confused as to what constitutes ministerial consent? Finally, I ask, would or could this happen at another of our chief tourist attractions, for instance on the approach to Newgrange?  HI

Richard O’Brien is chairperson of County Tipperary Historical Society.

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