Attribution: Dr. Mark Clinton of An Taisce's National Monuments & Antiquities Committee. For further information, please call Ruadhan Mac Eoin at 086 8146077.

Motorway plans for Aughrim battlefield site – An Taisce concerned by current plans & urges National Roads Authorities to rethink the M6 / Aughrim scheme.

Aughrim, Co. Galway : Battlefield site where 9000 died in 1691

Plans by the National Roads Authority to build a motorway at the site of the Battle of Aughrim are a cause for concern. Aughrim in Co. Galway is of both European and Irish significance. In what was the largest battle ever fought in Ireland, it is estimated that over 9000 died on the 12th of July 1691. The battle itself was of key importance to Ireland in that being the decisive failure for the Jacobite forces it paved the way for William III's success.

The scheme as currently proposed by the NRA is particularly destructive. It is not desirable to disturb such an important battle site in this way. The M6 route WILL, - not 'may possibly' (as misleadingly described by the Environmental Impact Statement) – cut across the northernmost wings of the both Williamite and Irish battle lines where the horse, cavalry, and dragoons took their posts. It was at this location where Mackay brought more than a thousand horsemen of the northernmost wing along the causeway by Aughrim Castle and across Melehan stream - thus deciding the fate of the battle. Despite this, the EIS claims the proposed route passing to the north of the N6 will ave a 'minimal' impact. (See paragraph. 15.3.4) The report does admit that the viewing point of 'Curragh Ringfort' just south of the N6 will be affected; the new road will 'impact' on the viewing point. This is too vague and the impact should be evaluated and specified.

Previous experience as to the NRA's approach to archaeology leaves a lot to be desired. For example the Director of the National Museum was not informed of the unique Viking site at Woodstown in Waterford, until May 2004 - 9 months after the NRA themselves had become aware of the site. An Taisce notes that in that instance, the funding for the much-needed Waterford bypass has since been diverted to other projects. In retrospect, it is apparent that it would have been far more beneficial had the NRA informed the National Museum at the outset. It is regrettable that Woodstown is only one instance of an emerging pattern where the NRA's approach to heritage sites leaves a lot to be desired. Recent reports as to the NRA being advised by their own consultants in 2000 to choose other routes for the M3/ Tara motorway speak volumes. Equally at Carrickmines, the Environmental Impact Statement has since been judged by the European Commission to have been seriously deficient; regrettably it would appear that that being that the case, nothing has been done to carry out even the most minimum remedial measures. Now that the actual motorway has been completed at Carrickmines, An Taisce awaits the NRA explanation as to why they are insisting on building the surrounding "Jackson Way Junction", the 4th interchange on the M50 within 5 miles. An Taisce also notes that although this junction has already been described by the NRA as "not necessary for the operational requirement of the M50"*, it is the junction that destroys circa. 45% of the area of the Monument site. Who benefits?

Key questions must be asked as to the NRA's Aughrim scheme:

  1. What is the logic of deliberately locating large infrastructural projects at known sites of historic importance?

  2. How reliable is the Environmental Impact Assessment for Aughrim? Repeatedly, behaviour by the NRA has been to downplay the significance and extent of heritage sites - as evidenced above.

  3. In the event of the EIS being flawed, what measures, if any, would be taken by the NRA to correct their plans?

Until genuine answers are forthcoming from the NRA, it is hard to have confidence in the Aughrim motorway scheme. The interests of good development and heritage protection are not just compatible, but synonymous - provided that the development is properly planned, with the appropriate checks and balances. However it is increasingly clear that the current procedures affecting antiquities are not working. While the NRA has been quick to blame archaeology as a significant source of costs their annual reports clearly indicate that of their annual spend, only 0.5 - 1% is on archaeology.

An Taisce believes that a superior approach would be to try to avoid such sites at the planning stage - allowing for in-situ preservation, less cost to the exchequer, and necessary infrastructure projects coming on stream a lot quicker. Unfortunately what is often hailed by the NRA as "preservation by record" has tended to mean "destruction through documentation". This is something to be avoided if Ireland is to abide by its international commitments under the Valetta Convention which advocates preservation in-situ. Given public interest in this area, with a significant majority believing that "heritage protection is very important," (as shown in recent surveys, both by the Heritage Council and Opinionmeter Ireland) An Taisce would urge the authorities to re-think - particularly in view of the fact that Ireland is losing 10% of its antiquities per decade (Heritage Council figures). If left unreformed, bodies such as the NRA will continue with current flawed procedures, where test-trenching is only carried out after permission has been granted, and where historians are not properly involved - until the next inevitable crisis has occurred.

(* NRA Carrickmines report= Report to Minister Brenann, 16th August 2002).