A tree-covered mound in Monaghan and a 19th-century church and graveyard in Kerry may not have much in common, but both were among the sites recently selected for the Heritage Council’s Adopt a Monument programme. The former, at Inishkeen, is in fact a most impressive Norman motte, one of the hundreds of such fortifications erected after the invasion of 1169–70. Better known is St James’ Church in Dingle, the history of which goes back to the Middle Ages, when the town was an embarkation point for pilgrims heading across the ocean to Santiago de Compostela. Still used for services by the Church of Ireland, the building has long been a popular venue for concerts during the annual festivals held in the town. The wide, sprawling graveyard with its series of impressive mausolea and ancient grave-slabs has an air of romantic neglect, wonderfully enhanced in early May by carpets of wild garlic. Also scattered about are fragments of the medieval church that preceded the present building, some reused as grave-markers. Looking after such sites demands patience and sensitivity: too much tidiness and the charm of the place will be lost.
Looking after such sites demands patience and sensitivity: too much tidiness and the charm of the place will be lost
Altogether, five awards have been made, the other three being a graveyard with a ruined church and sculptured cross at Killaghtee in Donegal, a ringfort at Baltimore in Co Cork, and an ancient graveyard with church ruins at Dunmanoge in Kildare. The cross at Killaghtee will be known to students of early Irish art: it is a sculptural masterpiece, the head of the stone transformed into a circle that encloses a precisely cut Maltese cross, a piece of knotwork added below for good measure. Parallels in Wales, Cornwall and the Isle of Man suggest that it was made in the 10th century, which means that the date of c. AD 650 mentioned by the Heritage Council may be somewhat wide of the mark.
Nonetheless, the Adopt a Monument programme is a laudable one. It provides training and mentoring for local groups, with the aim of encouraging communities to take an active interest in the conservation of nearby monuments.