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'Department of Environment Should Include Eamhain Macha in UNESCO 'Royal Irish Sites' Proposal'

category international | history and heritage | press release author Thursday April 23, 2009 18:02author by TaraWatch Report this post to the editors

People of Northern Ireland should be included in UNESCO Consultation

TaraWatch is urging the Department of the Environment to partner with the Northern Ireland Government and submit a Transboundary Nomination for all 'Royal Irish Sites', rather than just those sites in the South, currently being proposed.
Map of Irish Royal Sites by Ireland’s History in Maps
Map of Irish Royal Sites by Ireland’s History in Maps


23 April 2009

'Department of Environment Should Include Eamhain Macha in UNESCO 'Royal Irish Sites' Proposal'

TaraWatch is urging the Department of the Environment to partner with the Northern Ireland Government and submit a Transboundary Nomination for all 'Royal Irish Sites', rather than just those sites in the South, currently being proposed.

The Department is proposing to submit a 'serial nomination' to UNESCO entitled 'Royal Irish Sites', which includes:

- the Tara complex, (seat of the Kings of Meath and High Kings)

- Cashel (seat of the Munster Kings),

- Dun Ailinne and the Hill of Uisneach,(Leinster Kings; and

- Rathcroghan Complex (Kings of Connaught).

It appears that Eamhain Macha/Navan Fort, seat of the Ulster Kings, may be left out of the proposed ‘Royal Irish Sites’ grouping, because it is outside the jurisdiction.

A public information meeting took place in Kilcullen, County Kildare on Tuesday last for these proposals. Another meeting covering these royal sites will take place at Brú Ború heritage centre, Halla Ceol, Cashel, Co. Tipperary at 7.00 pm on 12 May 2009.

A number of public information meetings are being held around the Republic by the Department of the Environment, as part of a review of Ireland's list of UNESCO Tentative Sites. A final list of nominations will be submitted to UNESCO in July.

Vincent Salafia of TaraWatch said:

"UNESCO provides for Transboundary Nominations and no list of Royal Irish Sites would be complete without Eamhain Macha, the Navan Fort, seat of the Ulster Kings.

"We hope that the people of Northern Ireland are given an opportunity to participate in this process.

"The key question, which has not been answered yet by the Department at any meeting is; where does the ‘Tara complex‘ begin and end, for purposes of nomination?

"Our experts indicate that the Tara complex covers an area of approximately 5 sq km, which would mean that part of the M3 motorway would become a Unesco site too."



TaraWatch - Vincent Salafia 087-132-3365

Department of the Environment - Mr. Ray Connell Ph. 01-8883042

For More Information:

Royal Irish Sites

Public Information Meetings



Here is an excerpt from an affidavit given by Dr Ron Hicks, concerning the Lismullin national monument, which addresses Tara and other sites as being ‘royal sites’. This has been submitted to the Department as part of the TaraWatch nomination, and clearly shows the size of the Tara complex:

First it is necessary to put the Tara complex, of which the site of Lismullin is a part, in context through a brief statement regarding the nature and extent of sacred/ceremonial/ritual complexes in Ireland, and in particular the sites identified in medieval manuscripts as “royal sites,” of which Tara is the most important example. It is quite clear that these sites are not royal residences but rather ceremonial/ritual complexes closely associated with the kingship.

Certain characteristics tend to be shared by such complexes:

1) They can be identified by the presence of clusters of monuments recognized as being of a ritual or ceremonial nature–passage tumuli, earthen enclosures of the type usually called “henges” (after the penannular bank and ditch that constitutes the first construction phase at Stonehenge), stone circles, parallel banks of a sort known as “cursuses” (again named for an example in the Stonehenge complex), or a combination of such monuments, as well as others. At Tara you have not only the “Mound of the Hostages” but also henge-like earthworks as well as standing stones, the cursus-like “Banqueting Hall,” and a considerable number of other monuments.

2) They usually include monuments or other archaeological evidence belonging to more than one period. This is indicative of their continuing importance as sacred places, as can clearly be seen in the Bend of the Boyne complex, where we find the central monument of Newgrange—reliably dated to over 5000 years ago—serving as a place for the deposit of apparently ritual offerings of coins and other objects dating to the immediate pre-Christian period (some sixty objects, most dating from the late third to early fifth centuries A.D., according to Raghnall Ó Floinn of the National Museum). In the case of Newgrange (Brug na Boinne), as with Tara and Emain Macha, this continuing importance is emphasized by its role in Irish myth. And in a the case of three of the royal sites–Tara, Dún Ailinne, and Emain Macha–there is an Early Christian site, in each case attributed to a founding by St. Patrick, within or adjacent to the complex.

3) While these complexes often focus on one or more hilltops or other high points of land, they extend well beyond these. Although not one of the royal sites, the Boyne complex provides a good comparative example. It extends at least from the Dowth Hall henge on the east to Knowth passage tumulus on the west, a distance of over 4 km, and may originally have extended as far as the Hill of Slane, if the tumulus there is also Neolithic, which seems very possible. The north-south extent of the complex is also over 4 km, from the henge and tumuli of Monknewtown and Townley Hall to the enclosures below Newgrange along the Boyne. Thus the extent of the complex is 16 square km at a minimum.

The extent of the complex would seem to a key issue in the case of Tara and Lismullin. That being so, a consideration of the extent of the other royal complexes should prove illuminating. As at Tara, the earthwork complexes at Emain Macha, Rath Cruachan, and Dún Ailinne are mentioned in the early literature as having served as the foci for seasonal assemblies, either at Lughnasa or Samhain. The assemblies at Lughnasa, as at Emain Macha, seem to have occurred on plains nearby rather than within any of the enclosures. Thus each of these neighboring open areas must be considered an integral part of the ritual complex with which it was associated. Thus, although much has undoubtedly been destroyed in the vicinity during recent centuries, the Emain Macha complex must at the least have included the enclosure itself, this plain to the south (perhaps extending as far as Drumconwell, some 6 km to the southeast), and several nearby sites, including Ard Macha (the hill upon which the Armagh cathedral stands where excavation revealed traces of a surrounding ditch of uncertain date), Haughey’s Fort, and the “ritual pond” known as the King’s Stables. That would encompass an area extending perhaps 4 km east-west and at least 6 km north-south. At Ráth Cruachan, there exists a wide variety of monuments spread across an area measuring at least 3 km east-west by 3 1/2 north-south.

The Dún Ailinne complex covers a similar extent. Knockaulin Hill, at whose summit lies the major monument of the group, is a much more prominent feature of the landscape than the relatively small elevations at Emain Macha and Rath Cruachan, overlooking a considerable territory. The early literature provides us with seven names for assemblies in this vicinity (Alend, Colmáin, Carman, Ailbi, Sengormain, Clochair, and Lethchraich). While some are probably alternative names for single areas, they do not all seem to refer to the same location. The dindshenchas for the assembly site of Carman mentions twenty-one enclosures as well as several distinct activity areas within the overall site. The complex as a whole thus seems likely to have extended from the parish of Carnalway (Carn Ailbe) about 3 km to the north of Dún Ailinne, near Kilcullen, and across much of the Curragh to the northwest of Knockaulin, where one finds ten henge-like earthworks, constituting a complex covering an area some 4 km by 8 km long. While there is clearly some variation in the size of the ritual complexes that I have described, even using conservative estimates for their boundaries we see that the shortest dimension tends to be 3 to 4 km.

Given that it was associated with the high kingship, it is unlikely to have been smaller than those associated with the royal centers of Ulster, Connacht, and Leinster and was most probably somewhat larger. That it extends beyond the Hill of Tara itself can be easily seen. It certainly must extend to include Rath Maeve, whose far edge lies 1.6 km to the south, and the Riverstown enclosure and linear banks lying nearly 2 km to the west and northwest and Ringlestown Rath to their south. To the east the nearest prominent feature that might have marked a boundary to the district is the Hill of Skreen, some 3.4 km away, well within likely limits for such complexes. The presence on the height of an early monastic site is another indication that it is likely to have been a pre-Christian sacred site. It is undoubtedly significant that the Gabhra River flows between the two hills down the middle of this complex, given its name, which can be interpreted as the River of the White Mare, a symbol intimately associated with kingship in ancient Ireland. To the north of Skreen lies Rath Lugh and west from there Rath Miles, each of which seems likely to lie within the boundaries of the complex, with the Lismullin enclosure between them. In his survey of the Tara vicinity, Newman also describes a number of mounds nearby that likewise most probably lay within the limits of the complex. This includes a line of four lying to the east and northeast. The most northerly of these, in Clonardran Townland, lies on high ground somewhat more than 3.5 km from the Tara hilltop while the fourth lies in the valley just east of the Hill of Tara itself. Newman points out that some of these mounds are comparable in size to the Mound of the Hostages and may, like it, be passage tumuli. This would give the Tara complex overall dimensions of roughly 5 km both north-south and east-west.

It seems obvious that if some portions of such complexes qualify as National Monuments, then the complex as a whole should qualify since all components are integral parts.

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