Wednesday, 15 November 2023
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I want to express my sympathies to the Senator, his Fine Gael colleagues and the Belton family on the passing of the former Deputy and Senator from Longford, Louis J. Belton. It was always a pleasure to meet him, and it is quite ironic that we are speaking about a Longford issue here this morning. My thoughts are with you all.
As the Senator knows, the OPW is responsible for the conservation, maintenance, presentation and the promotion of Ireland's most iconic heritage properties, including our two UNESCO world heritage sites, 800 national monuments, 32 national historic properties and more than 5,000 acres of gardens and parklands. The OPW holds the right, under legislation, to enter property to undertake the necessary maintenance and works for the protection of monuments in its care.
As the Senator referenced, in 1984, a major prehistoric trackway of large oak planks was discovered during a Bord na Móna peat harvesting operation at Corlea. Wood samples from Corlea subjected to tree ring analysis indicated a felling date of 148 B.C., thus dating the track back to the early Iron Age. This track was one of the large number of trackways investigated, which range in date from the middle of the fourth millennium BC to the middle of the first millennium A.D. These ancient trackways had become engulfed and preserved by the formation of the raised bog.
The building at Corlea was a prestigious construction of the period. Unlike the earlier tracks, its significance clearly transcends the needs of local farming communities and it may have been part of a network of major communications routes. The Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre was opened in 1994 and is built on the exact axis of trackway in the bog. Within the building, 18 m of trackway is on display. This section of the trackway was exposed and excavated by archaeologists on its discovery. The exposed timbers were removed and preserved by means of sophisticated, dry freezing technique and then re-laid in their original positions. To preserve the last remaining 18 m of the great timbers under the bog, the intact eastern section of the raised bog at Corlea was conserved. To achieve this, the water level in the bog was raised and retained at a higher level by means of sheeting to enclose the area and the construction of small artificial lakes. The visitor centre contains an audiovisual presentation on the excavation and the preservation of the timbers of the Corlea Trackway as well as interpretive panels and artefacts. A boardwalk across the bog and from the rear of the building follows the course and the extent of the remaining trackway within the bog. From this boardwalk can be glimpsed many of the plants and animals of the bogland habitat.
The Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre is, therefore, unique in the country. It combines a number of distinct elements and disciplines, including history, archaeology, engineering, architecture and the natural environment. The OPW is happy to consider the installation of the cross logs referred to by the Senator or, indeed, any exhibition or artefact. However, any decision in this regard will be cognisant of a number of factors.These include clarification of the ownership of the items in question and the long-term requirements that will have to be put in place to protect them from damage or deterioration. The OPW is committing to engage with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the National Museum of Ireland in this regard.