The passage tomb at the top of Knocknarea and the megalithic burial ground at Carrowmore are well-known local attractions for the residents of Sligo, although even many locals are unaware of two unopened Neolithic tombs less than 6 miles from their more famous historic cousins.
The two graves, on Cairns Hill, close to Markievicz Park, the local GAA site, have been described as “the jewels in the crown” of a Sligo County Council-backed bid to have the county’s Neolithic past honored by a UNESCO World Heritage Ranking .
Monday morning, Sligo councilors vote to approve a material breach of their county development plan to clear the way for the construction of 74 homes designed by architect and television presenter Hugh Wallace’s firm, Douglas Wallace, on Cairns Hill.
Fourteen years ago, Cairns Hill was very much on the radar of Sligo councilors when they voted unanimously to block the construction of a road on the hill, following vigorous lobbying by archaeologists and others fearing the impact on the monuments and the landscape.
Sligo has 75 passage graves, it is believed, one third of the state’s total. In an effort to protect them, efforts are underway to have the landscape declared a World Heritage Site (WHS), joining the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China and Ireland’s Skellig Michael and Brú na Bóinne.
The first step on Sligo’s journey into the World Heritage ranks is expected to be stamped this month with the announcement that Sligo’s Neolithic treasures will be placed on Ireland’s tentative WHS list, ahead of UNESCO’s 10-year review of the list.
Everyone involved accepts that Sligo has a housing crisis. The councilors will be asked to give the green light to the project, which has already been approved by the planners, even though 13 of the 18 of them have to approve the material violation of the development plan.
However, some residents who already live near the mound argue that it is not the right place for a high-density plan, while archaeologists and environmentalists say it will endanger the World Heritage Site.
‘A big question’
Recently elected cathaoirleach of Sligo County Council, independent councilor Michael Clarke has expressed his support for the mix of apartments, terraced houses and semi-detached houses, saying that housing is his priority, although getting 13 out of 18 votes” will be a big question.” †
Pádraig Meehan of the Sligo Neolithic Landscape Group (SNLG) opposed changes to the provincial development plan, saying the Carrowmore complex, one of the most important in Europe, would have had the urban landfill site next to it without previous protections.
Ironically, the SNLG helped prepare the application for addition to UNESCO’s tentative list of World Heritage Sites in conjunction with Sligo County Council, later describing Cairns Hill as “the jewel in the crown” of the bid.
The application from developers Novot Holdings Ltd and designed by Mr Wallace, best known for TV series such as Home of the Year and The Great House Revival, “may pose a threat” to the ongoing bid for WHS status, the group said. .
The main sites in the Neolithic landscape of Sligo are Carrowmore, the passage graves of Carrowkeel, Knocknarea, Cairns Hill, the Ox Mountains, the Ballygawley Hills and Keash. The relationship between them and the landscape makes them special, archaeologists say.
Eugene Flynn, who grew up on Cairns Hill and was involved in the campaign to block the road plan 14 years ago, says councilors voted then to protect an important landscape, and they shouldn’t be turning it back 14 years later.
Councilors are being told a no vote on Monday would be a vote against housing, but in fact it would be a vote to prevent “irreversible damage”, while allowing time for consideration of the new provincial development plan and time for the WHS request to continue.
“A lot of people don’t realize that Cairns Hill is as important as Knocknarea and no one today would consider building a residential area halfway through Knocknarea,” Flynn said this week.
Meanwhile, residents claim the Novot development “on the highest point of Cairns Hill”, 1.5 miles from the center of Sligo town, is said to be the highest residence in Sligo, and the existing flooding in a nearby estate, where gardens are already under standing water would worsen constantly.
They also argued that the project violates all regional and national planning guidelines, as other sites closer to the city are zoned residential and there are 20 local properties on the register of vacant sites.
“It is deeply ironic and hypocritical of Sligo County Council and councilors to praise the unique scenery, tourism and jobs that our Neolithic landscape brings, but on the other hand actively promote excessive development,” said residents spokesman Graham Glynn .
NUIG-based archaeologist Stefan Berg, who helped write the WHS application, has complained to the municipality that his objections were not included in the planning file available for public review, although he made it April 19, the deadline. submitted for submission.
Mr Berg said he was told by a municipal official that his entry had not been included because a fee of €20 had not been paid, although he says he left the necessary details and other applications submitted after being included in the file. .
Asked if county councilors couldn’t have heard the views of a Neolithic landscape expert, Sligo County Council says its submission was circulated to elected members on June 17. Planners approved the development on May 10, subject to councilors’ vote.
Local residents, Mr Glynn said, were well aware of the housing crisis but had legitimate concerns about the height and density of a plan that would bring up to 120 more cars on an already busy road.
“We have letters from two local primary schools saying they have no capacity,” added Mr Glynn, “We are asking councilors to be careful and not panic. Will we look back over the next few years and ask ourselves why they are on top built Cairns Hill?”
Asked for his own take on the controversy, architect Wallace told The Irish Times there were two existing residential areas between the development he designed and the cairns.
Referring to Sligo’s “well documented” housing needs, Mr Wallace said there are currently nine new homes for sale in Sligo: “I think Sligo is great, but if you look around, even the high street, there are so many empty shops there.”
Flood risks had been examined during the planning, he said, and the Novot plan posed no risk to other houses: “It is a very suitable place to build new housing to serve the chronic undersupply in the city,” he added. .