It has yet to be established when the ringfort of stone was built on top of Greenan Hill but the earthworks and now lost souterrain (underground chamber) originate from as early as the Stone and Bronze Age. The geographical position of the hill and therefore everything placed on its top enjoys not only vast views but also a very commanding position. The ringfort itself was attacked and destroyed on three known occasions. The last took place in 1101 as Murtagh O’Brien, King of Munster, plundered Inishowen in an act of revenge and ordered his men to billet the stones of Aileach “on the horses of the king of the West”. Only a few stones actually made the journey all the way to Limerick but the destruction was long-term, since 700 years had to pass until the ‘discovery’ of the ruin of Grianan Aileach at the beginning of the 1800’s. Subsequently great interest was taken into this antiquity and in 1874 an architect from Derry, Dr. Walter Bernard, took it upon himself to restore the ruin and prevent it from further damage from souvenir-hungry visitors. He finished in 1878 and a grand re-opening was held. He left a detailed account of his restoration in the proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, finishing that” it be taken charge of under the Act likely soon to come into force for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments. – Jan. 30th, 1879″.
Grianan Aileach went into the care of the then British OPW in 1904 and seemed to be mentioned in 76th Annual Report of Commissioners of Public Works 1907/08 regarding the state of the monument. A verbal request to receive a copy of this document was denied in November 2006.
Between 1878 and 1904 damage occurred on the monument and it still has to be established what the extent of this damage was and more importantly what caused it. Dr. Bernard described in his report the reason of previous damage to the fort:
“An account of the rapid destruction of the Grianan is given by Mr. Godwin, F.S.A., in the April number of the Architect for 1872. He states that at the time of his visit in March, 1858, the masonry was in a very dilapidated condition, owing in a great part to the labours of some gentleman, who many years ago evinced, more curiosity than care in searching after subterranean passages, &c.: since which time this interesting work of antiquity has deplorably suffered by the summer invasion of visitors from the neighbouring city – indeed, to such an extent that the drawings of the fort, taken at the time of the Ordnance Survey, have literally become matters of history, for the inclined jambs, the interior terrace with its steps, the small central building, and many other features of note which then existed are now no more. These statements, from reliable witnesses, are sufficient to convince anyone that what had lain concealed and disregarded for centuries would, by the unthinking, careless, and curious, be soon reduced to nothing. Probably this work of spoliation might still have advanced with a more rapid pace, inasmuch as newspaper writers of late years have been drawing the attention of the general public to the locality.”
In a statement made to the Donegal Democrat on October 3, 2006, Aaron Gracey, Events Coordinator, Public Relations Department, OPW, listed “Sample extracts from Derry Journal on OPW file recording recurring damage to site:
“14/4/1939 Vandalism at Aileach
16/5/1961 Grianan damage to be repaired
29/12 /1989 Grianan of Aileach badly damaged”
In November 2000 the Lough Swilly / west facing wall collapsed. Repair work finished at the beginning of 2003.
In September 2003 the Lough Swilly / west facing wall collapsed.
At the beginning of summer 2005 the Lough Swilly / west facing wall collapsed.
In June 2006 the gate section was dismantled and rebuilt.
In June 2007 the Lough Swilly / west facing wall was dismantled and rebuilt.
Statements made by the OPW
03/10/2003 Derry Journal
The Office of Public Works yesterday defended its decision to use concrete to rebuild a collapsed section of the historic Grianan of Aileach ringfort in Burt.
However, the OPW conservation architect in charge of the restoration works at Grianan of Aileach, told the ‘Journal’ yesterday that the use of concrete was essential in order to ensure the safety of the many tourists who visit the fort. Paul McMahon said the practice was “acceptable” as the repair work was not to the original ancient structure but to Dr Bernard’s 1870 extensive reconstruction of the fort, which was once the throne of the High Kings of Ireland.
“We are now making good the poor restoration work done in the 1970’s,” he said. “Two specialists, an engineer and an archaeologist, have been monitoring and advising on the work currently being carried out on the ancient building. The stabilising concrete is being put into the core of the wall at the depth of up to two metres while the dry stone facing is the then built to the front.”
“In the international world concrete is used extensively – you see it in the Colosseum in Rome. Primarily the role is to make it safe for visitors,” he added.
In treaties and conventions signed by the Irish government it is clearly stated “The conservation of a monument implies preserving a setting which is not out of scale. Wherever the traditional setting exists, it must be kept. No new construction, demolition or modification which would alter the relations of mass and colour must be allowed. … The moving of all or part of a monument cannot be allowed except where the safeguarding of that monument demands it or where it is justified by national or international interest of paramount importance.” and that “any measures adopted should be “reversible” so that they can be removed and replaced with more suitable measures when new knowledge is acquired. Where they are not completely reversible, interventions should not limit further interventions.”
The colosseum in Rome (http://www.the-colosseum.net/idx-en.htm) was built from travertin stone or Roman cement, the first concrete. Roman builders were also aware that a foundation is needed for this kind of construction and excavated accordingly in 70 AD.
Grianan Aileach stands on solid rock without foundation, since its original design was a dry stone construction which does not require such feature. In buildings and walls with mortar, cement or concrete as binding component between stones or bricks the foundation is essential to the structural integrity. Adding concrete to Grianan Aileach has therefore increased the instability of the monument, since no foundation has been excavated prior to the use of concrete.
08/07/2004 Tom Parlon, TD, Minister of State at the Department of Finance; reply to Parliamentary Question by Cecilia Keaveney, TD, regarding Grianan Aileach.
A scheme has been devised to prevent structural collapse at this monument. This involves the dismantling of sections which have collapsed or are liable to collapse and the construction of an embedded concrete wall in this areas. Reconstruction of the dry stone walls enveloping the concrete wall will take place as individual sections of the concrete wall are completed.
Work commenced in 2003 and will continue until 2005.
In the case of the Lough Swilly/west facing section of this monument the methods employed are not just in breach of international conventions but also highly unsuccessful. To my knowledge there is no other monument in the world which needed to be rebuilt that many times in such short amount of time.
27/09/2006 Aaron Gracey, Events Coordinator, Public Relations Department, OPW, statement to the Donegal Democrat
Dr. Walter Bernard, a local resident, carried out re-building of the monument between the years of 1874-1878. Following a series of major collapses of the restored structure, the monument was placed in State Care in 1904. Local repairs were carried out at the time but due to the unsatisfactory nature of the restored external masonry works and rubble/earth centre fill, sectional collapse continued at regular intervals.
In 2001, a specialist structural engineering and archaeological survey was undertaken by OPW. It revealed the lower original sections of the wall and confirmed the reasons for the monuments instability. The original inward leaning, stable profile and line of the Grianan wall was established and the monument is now being restored to that design.
Two of the three workers on the site are qualified stonemasons.
To the best of our knowledge there is no cement being used to repair the site at present.
The present intervention should considerably improve the future stability of the monument and ensure safe public access to the site.
03/10/2006 Aaron Gracey, Events Coordinator, Public Relations Department, OPW, statement to the Donegal Democrat
Grianan Aileach 3/09/06
As stated in the previous response, a local man, Dr. Walter Bernard rebuilt the site of Grianan Aileach between 1874 and 1878. However, in the absence of archaeological evidence for its original appearance, he modelled the rebuild on the relatively intact Staigue Iron Age Fort in County Kerry.History of collapse and need for more permanent repair methodWhen the site came into State Care approximately thirty years later the restored walls were already in a dilapidated state with extensive collapse of the outer stonework. Despite OPW efforts to carry out patch repair work to the monument over the next 80 years the files show that Bernard’s work was unstable and collapse was reoccurring on a regular basis.In 1989, following another major collapse and short term patch repair work, OPW undertook to monitor the condition of the monument and investigate intervention methods that could stabilise the structure. Immediately following the next collapse a specialist multi-disciplinary team was assembled by OPW to address the problem. In 2001, a detailed archaeological and engineering investigation was undertaken which revealed sections of the line of the ancient pre-restoration structure and confirmed the shape and outline of Bernard’s work.Due to the significant amenity value of Bernard’s restored monument OPW considered that it would not be appropriate or feasible to dismantle and remove Bernard’s restored stonework and to leave the site in its pre-restoration collapsed state. The engineer recommended that the bulging sections of walling, which were liable to collapse should be dismantled and rebuilt to Bernard’s inward sloping design.
Due to the instability of the underlying surviving stonework modern reinforced concrete supports were inserted at the base of the rebuilt sections over the lintols of the internal passageways. All external walling would be constructed by OPW craftsmen to match Bernard’s design but with a sound central fill which would considerably improve the structures future stability. The use of modern materials in the preservation of ancient structures is standard conservation practise.
The wall tops are secured with a cement finish in an effort to prevent frost damage and interference causing stone collapse and resultant risk to the visitor.
09/11/2006 Paul McMahon, Senior Conservation Architect OPW, to the RTE Nine O’Clock News
The Grianan Aileach profile has been change but what was perceived as an intrinsic bulge, they say, was actually due to a problem with the major restoration in the late 1800’s by a Dr. Bernard. “They were very poorly built. The core was made of clay. So what we are actually looking at when we were looking at those bulges was another area of potential collapse.” But now he says, modern conservation methods combined with the special design using reinforced concrete has given a stable footing to the Grianan which will hope to reopen next summer.
24/05/2007 Cathy Bruton, Private Secretary, Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Ref: REP2521/DR/07)
I have been asked by Dick Roche T.D., Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to refer further to your recent correspondence in relation to Grianan Aileach. Grianan Aileach is a National Monument in State care and as such, the day to day management and maintenance of this monument is a matter for the Office of Public Works (OPW). It is understood that the OPW has received a copy of your correspondence and a direct reply will issue from the OPW.
12/07/2007 Noel Ahern, T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Finance and OPW (Ref: C/MD – 2004/575)
I refer again to your recent correspondence regarding the National Monument, Grianan Aileach at Inishowen, Co. Donegal. The reasons for concrete use in the conservation work on Grianan Aileach are follows.
In 2001 a detailed archaeological and engineering investigation was undertaken which revealed sections of the line of the disturbed ancient pre restoration structure and confirmed the shape and outline of Dr. Walter Bernards work (1874-1878). Because of the significant amenity value of Bernards restored monument, OPW considered that it would not be appropriate or feasible to dismantle and remove Bernards restored stonework and to leave the site in its pre restoration collapsed state. The engineer recommended that the bulging sections of walling which were liable to collapse should be dismantled and rebuilt to Bernards inward sloping design. Due to the instability of the underlying surviving stonework modern reinforced concrete supports were inserted at the base of the rebuilt sections and over the lintels of the internal passageways.
All external walling is constructed by OPW craftsmen to match Bernards design but with a sound central fill which would considerably improve the structures future stability.The use of modern materials in the preservation of ancient structures is standard conservation practise.
The wall tops are secured with a mortar finish in an effort to prevent interference causing stone collapse and the resultant risk to the visitor.
As stated Grianan Aileach is” in State care and as such, the day to day management and maintenance of this monument is a matter for the Office of Public Works (OPW)”. Therefore all repair work with the exception of one and since 1904 has been carried out by the OPW. Since Dr. Walter Bernard did not use in his restoration clay for the core nor a rubble/earth centre fill, these can be only later additions. Previous collapses provided an insight into the cross section of the wall and I can confirm a rubble/earth centre fill, which would by its very nature create movement and as such instability to a wall and is most likely the result of short term patch repair work.
Criticism of Dr. Bernard’s work seems to be unfounded. “It is sometimes said that we must view the present cashel with a certain amount of doubt because `it is only a reconstruction`, but a study of the description, plans and sketches in Colby’s Survey will show that Dr. Bernard’s reconstruction was remarkably accurate.” But “Various repairs to the cashel itself, unfortunately necessitated by vandalism over the years, have not always seemed to be accurate.” Mabel R. Colhoun, “The Heritage of Inishowen – Its Archaeology, History and Folklore.”
Statements made concerning the instability of the underlying surviving stonework seem also disputable, since the fort stood for at least several centuries before its so far final destruction in 1101 and its ruin remained stable and standing for over 700 years until ‘the summer invasion of visitors’ in the second part of the 19th century. And since Dr. Bernard rebuilt Grianan on its surviving remains and marked these with tar to distinguish between his reconstruction and the original structure, a line of the disturbed ancient pre restoration structure has not been caused by Dr. Bernard.
Clarification also seems to be needed concerning the OPW conclusion of Dr. Bernard’s work. If his work was unstable and collapse was reoccurring on a regular basis, than it seems logical not to match current work to his design.
The special design using reinforced concrete to considerably improve the structures future stability has produced in the last 8 years 3 collapses and 2 dismantlings of sections of the wall, compared to the 3 accounts of damage between 1939 and 1989.
No records have been so far provided, concerning the day to day management and maintenance of this monument, and I am not aware of any such work carried out at Grianan Aileach on a scheduled basis at any time to prevent further and greater damage to the fort and according to statements made by the OPW, work was carried out after damage had occurred to the monument. The ‘overnight’ collapses of the west section of the wall in 2000, 2003 and 2005 seem to confirm that and their failure to inspect this monument must be called irresponsible and negligent towards the safety of the visitors, who stand on top of this wall to admire the views.
Since the OPW is receiving payment from the State and therefore public money for the upkeep of the National monuments in its care, records should be available to the public to show how much has been spent and on what over the years on the day to day management and maintenance of this monument and the expense of the restoration work.
And there are questions over stones removed from the monument, which have become excessive and obsolete over recent years through the use of concrete. The culmination of these stones could be seen until July 2007 beside the monument and can now be found further down the hill dumped in a field, despite the Grenada Convention of 1985 which was signed by the Irish Government.
Each Party undertakes to prohibit the removal, in whole or in part, of any protected monument, except where the material safeguarding of such monuments makes removal imperative. In these circumstances the competent authority shall take the necessary precautions for its dismantling, transfer and reinstatement at a suitable location.
The same and subsequent conventions also state:
Each Party undertakes:
to implement appropriate supervision and authorisation procedures as required by the legal protection of the properties in question;
to prevent the disfigurement, dilapidation or demolition of protected properties. To this end, each Party undertakes to introduce, if it has not already done so, legislation which:
requires the submission to a competent authority of any scheme for the demolition or alteration of monuments which are already protected, or in respect of which protection proceedings have been instituted, as well as any scheme affecting their surroundings;
requires the submission to a competent authority of any scheme affecting a group of buildings or a part thereof or a site which involves:
- demolition of buildings,
- the erection of new buildings,
- substantial alterations which impair the character of the buildings or the site
In 2003, Duchas – The Irish Heritage Service, was abolished and most functions and responsibilities for the protection of historic monuments were redistributed to the OPW. But since a specialist structural engineering and archaeological survey was undertaken by OPW in 2001 and therefore before the OPW was in a position to make submissions to itself, the scheme devised, involving the dismantling of sections which have collapsed or are liable to collapse and the construction of an embedded concrete wall in this areas, should have been submitted to Duchas for approval. Such document has not been mentioned in statements.
In 2004 Irish law was changed and the role of a competent authority was given to a single minister.
“The Minister in exercising discretion under paragraph (a) of this subsection is not restricted to archaeological considerations but is entitled to consider the public interest in allowing the carrying out of works notwithstanding that such works may involve-
(i) injury to or interference with the national monument concerned,
(ii) the destruction in whole or in part of the national monument concerned.”
Since the minister referred to above is the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, documents concerning interference with the national monument and the destruction in whole or in part, should be in the hands of this department as well as correspondence from and with the Department of Finance and OPW referring to the work carried out at Grianan Aileach and should be made available.
The OPW’s craftsmanship and care employed at this monument have so far only produced a record of collapse and ongoing interference which by no means provided stability of the monument and ensure safe public access to the site. Because basic laws of physics and construction have been ignored, a rigorous schedule of monitoring the structural integrity and condition of the wall should be put into place.