An article by Roisin McLaughlin was printed in last weeks edition of the Inish Times concerning a meeting between Brian Hayes TD, Minister of State at the Department of Finance with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works and a local councillor, Peter McLaughlin, both FG.
Having attempted to at least start an official response from our heritage group but ending up with my usual and therefore personal response, I received a phone call, asking me to hold the fire of criticism against the OPW for now, since a meeting with Brian Hayes and our group seems to be on the table. And we want something the OPW owns – the old Garda Station in Buncrana, which is one of the options considered for the return of the Harry Percival Swan collection to Buncrana.
So for the time being I quietly post my response here:
Visitors to Inishowen, some of them still arriving on its shore more by accident than design, may be forgiven for thinking of it as the place that time and travel guides forgot. And far too many journey home, none the wiser as to the riches they just left. If a questionnaire would be handed to them on the eve of their departure, some of them would have seen the Grianán of Aileach, few of them would have found their way either to Cloncha, St. Mura or Straid, even less to the castles at Carrickabraghy, Burt and Inch, and nearly all of them would have missed the Temple of Deen and the Bocan Stone Circle.
For so many years now, local community groups have fought hard to attract visitors to this area by highlighting the great wealth of its past. There was the McGlinchey Summer School, running for ten years and The Inishowen Summer Gathering, there is the Charles Macklin Autumn School, now in its 22nd year, the Colgan Heritage Weekend and the West Inishowen Summer School, as well as various music festivals around the peninsula, guided walks, book launches, talks, workshops – all of them promoting and therefore protecting so many different aspects of the heritage of Inishowen.
It seems odd for a Minister of State, apparently completely unaware of these efforts, to remark that “Inishowen’s communities must work together with state bodies to protect our sites of historical interest”, and a Buncrana councillor to ask “local committees” to “start putting forward ideas to enable us to maximise the potential”. The latter could have easily found out about such ideas if he would have attended any of the events at last month’s Heritage Week during which Marilynn Rouse, one of the world’s leading experts on John Newton (Amazing Grace) gave a lecture, an anchor from HMS Saldanha was donated to the Military Museum at Fort Dunree and an initiative started to return the Harry Percival Swan Collection.
Seeking the support of politicians, on local and government level, by community groups has resulted in the lack thereof, questionable work carried out at the Grianán of Aileach and Inishowen becoming part of the UK on an all Ireland tourist map a few years back.
It would be much welcomed if politicians on this occasion truly meant what they have said, be it only to “prevent a repeat of that scenario.”
Perhaps some information might be appropriate in this place concerning the Grianán “being marked on the oldest known map of the world” – Claudius Ptolemy’s Geographia from circa 150 AD. His map of Hibernia shows two places named Regia, a royal residence, one in the northern and one in the southern half on the island of Ireland. To this day neither of these locations have been clearly identified and what is hoped to be the palace of Aileach, could be as well the royal seat at Cruachain or Emain Macha.
In this years edition of ‘Discover Derry’ Dr. Brian Lacey writes: “ The Grianán of Aileach is mentioned frequently in the ancient literature of Ireland as one of the chief residences of the people known as the northern Uí Néill – the northern families who claimed descent from the legendary hero Niall of the Nine Hostages. Some scholars have argued that Elaghmore is the proper location of that site. In fact, both places were the chief centres of Aileach – Elaghmore before about AD 800, the Grianán afterwards.”
It is safe to say that our Grianán of Aileach is not marked on Ptolemy’s map – but it would be wonderful to know, what stood on this hill in 150 AD*.
* According to Dr. Brian Lacey’s research the circular stone structure known as the Grianán of Aileach was erected around 800 AD.