Architectural heritage of Boyne Valley is ‘under siege’

Drogheda Independent, June 23rd, 2000:

Architectural heritage of Boyne Valley is ‘under siege’ Professor tells audience

THE Architectural Heritage of the Boyne Valley is coming under siege from motorway construction, claimed Professor George Eogan UCD, at the 7th annual John Boyle O’Reilly Summer School held in Governor’s House, Millmount, Drogheda. With three main roads planned to disect County Meath along with some of Louth, sensitive areas of architectural interest may be lost through lack of co-ordination, he claimed. ‘In East Meath there is the Julianstown/Tullyallen stretch of motorway which goes through the Boyne Valley area. In central Meath the Blanchardstown/Kells road goes through Tara, potentially the richest archaeological area in the country, and in South Meath the Enfield road goes through Clonard,’ said Professor Eogan in reply to questions on the future of archaeological sites. ‘We need an integrated approach incorporating an archaeological research project over the whole area with a director and a team of professional archaeologists to ensure that monitoring, recording and ultimate publishing is carried out to the highest archaeological standards.’


In his lecture Professor Eogan, Professor Emeritus UCD, examined the Boyne Valley’s neolithic heritage, where some of Europe’s most renowned passage tombs are located. ‘Drogheda is a core area in neolithic Ireland, being in the centre of the passage tombs of Brú na Bóinne, Fourknocks and Tara. Passage tombs are mainly located north of a line from Wicklow to Sligo,’said Professor Eogan, who has now spent 40 years overseeing excavations at Knowth. Passage tombs can be concentrated in cemeteries such as Carrowmore which contains 100 burials, and nearby Carrowkeel (14). In the Boyne Valley there are 30 tombs in 3 clusters at Loughcrew, near Oldcastle, and at Brú na Bóinne there is evidence of over 30 sites, with more which no longer exist. The tumulii at Knowth, Dowth and Newgrange are massive sites, covering over an acre, are circa 100 yards in diameter amd approx. 30 feet in height. They are bounded by the rivers Boyne and Mattock, almost forming an island. The passage tomb consists of a long passage leading to a chamber which often has recesses, giving it a cruciform shape. The chambers have a corbelled roof made of stone. They are surrounded by kerbstones. These architecturally complicated stone monuments often have a calendrical significance, marking the passage of time at either sunrise/sunset at the equinox or solstice. Artwork is profuse in the Boyne Valley tombs, and a certain amount of objects such as pottery and stone jewellery was placed in the tombs where some cremated remains were found in carved sandstone basins. ‘This is a creative area where great innovation is evident,’ said Professor Eogan. ‘It is remarkable that these tombs still survive and can cause so much excitement and are still focal points of study 5,000 years after their construction.’


‘Whilst the Boyne Valley is unique, it also has features common to other landscapes such as Wessex, where Stonehenge is located, and in the Orkneys where Maeshowe is located,’ said Professor Gabriel Cooney, Dept. of Archaeology UCD. ‘The question of links and communication between monuments in different places must be examined,’ he said. Professor Cooney noted that there is an important celestial axis and alignments at many of these sites, showing that there was a knowledge of the movements of the sun and moon, a sense of time, season and ceremony captured in stone in these monuments. Looking at Wessex and the West Kennet barrow, Sillbury Hill, the late neolithic circular monument at Avebury, Professor Cooney also highlighted the stone ‘avenues’ leading to sites in these areas. There are almost 100 megalithic tombs in Orkney, passage tombs quite similar to those found in the Boyne Valley, he explained, with the winter solstice sunset entering the tomb at Maeshowe. People 5,000 years ago moved between monuments which are broadly contemporary, explained Professor Cooney, with their importance continuing from the late Neolithic to Early Bronze age. Some sort of social order must have been evident as large numbers of people were clearly involved in the construction of these monuments. Both professors were clearly concerned about rescue archaeology in Ireland’s current building boom, speaking of archaeologists working against the clock to the sound of bulldozers behind them.


Louthiana, first published in 1748 with a second edition in 1758, was written by Thomas Wright of Durham, a visitor to County Louth and the Boyne Valley area. The book was republished by Dundealgan Press as a millennium project, and was the subject of Professor Michael McCarthy’s lecture. Professor McCarthy is in the Dept. of Art History UCD. Originally known as an astronomer, Wright was an accomplished architect, artist and landscape/garden designer. His drawings are an important source of knowledge of Ireland in the 18th century. During his stay in Ireland from mid 1746 - October 1747 he amassed a colection of drawings, engravings and articles about Ireland, publishing them in Louthiana. He charted modern houses as well as the ancient features of the Boyne Valley, many of which proved a source of inspiration to his later designs. Many quirky buildings have been attributed to Thomas Wright such as the Connolly Folly at Castletown. He is known as the first architect to use bow windows in England, which were in use 10 years before that in Ireland during his time here. Sketches in Louthiana include Carlingford Castle, Oldbridge obelisk, Faughart, Dundoogan Castle, Ladywell, Monasterboice round tower, Mellifont Abbey, and many more. ‘Wright’s unpublished manuscript detailing his time in the Boyne Valley is now crying out to be published,’ concluded Professor McCarthy. PEGGY O’REILLY Internationally acknowledged as an expert on the Fenian John Boyle O’Reilly, Ms. O’Reilly gave a short account of the patriot’s life, interspersed with his poetry. John Boyle O’Reilly was born in Dowth, County Meath on 28/6/1844. He attended school in Slane, began his apprenticeship as a journalist with the Drogheda Argus at the age of 11. After moving to the Preston Guardian he joined the cavalry regiment of the British Army and subsequently got 80% of the regiment to become Fenians. O’Reilly was transported to Australia but escaped to Boston where he became editor of The Boston Pilot and championed the cause of the underdog. His grandson, Professor Boyle O’Reilly Hawkins still lives in Boston where an annual graveside commemoration takes place. His most famous poems include The White Rose, The Cry of the Dreamer and In Bohemia. The Millennium John Boyle O’Reilly Summer School concluded, as usual, with a field trip to Netterville, Dowth, where a magnificent piece of local sculpture was erected to his memory at the spot where he wished to be buried. ‘A sower of infinite seed was he A woodman that hewed towards the light’.

See the story, plus pictures, on the Drogheda Independent website

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