The aim of this research project, undertaken through the Dublin Institute of Technology, was to explore, evaluate, compare and contrast the vulnerability to physical decay and deterioration of archaeological and architectural stone monuments located along the Irish coast, with those found in unpolluted inland environments. The usefulness of the coast and rivers for the exploitation of natural resources, trade and communications resulted in the historic development of towns, villages, individual buildings, monuments, structures and complexes along the coastlines of the world. The legacy of Irish archaeological monuments and historic buildings built in stone and found in close proximity to the coast ranges from the earliest tombs and ritual complexes to the wealth of medieval towns, fortifications and ecclesiastical settlements, through to the increasing diversity of post-medieval and 20th century cultural heritage, much of which has been constructed in stone. The coast is a dynamic system, an interface between land and sea where rapid change can have devastating effects on historic buildings and monuments. Damage to stone monuments can encompass submergence of entire sites, to undermining and physical damage of structures at the waters edge, to severe decay of historic stone surfaces: an area which has been the focus of significant academic interest and research elsewhere in Europe.

Over the course of this research, over 300 monuments were evaluated. These are located underwater, in the inter-tidal zone, and along the coasts of counties Dublin, Wicklow, Wexford, Cork, Kerry, Clare, Galway, Sligo and Donegal. Comparable buildings from unpolluted inland environments were examined in counties Dublin, Kildare, Wicklow, Carlow, Laois, Wexford and Donegal, with a single case study taken from an urban context. The monuments were evaluated using a specially developed methodology designed to be relevant to the assessment of any stone building or monument, of any period of construction, and of any stone type. The methodological approach is based on an ever-increasing focus on the central research question: firstly by examining the vulnerability of the coastline of the area; then of the shoreline immediately adjacent to the monument; followed by an assessment of the building; leading to identification of the key areas of vulnerability; and ultimately leading to detailed field and laboratory-based analyses (petrography, ion chromatography, SEM, XRD, XRF) of stone surfaces, deposits and decay forms. The results of these analyses and assessments were considered to determine any variations between the types and severities of decay found to monuments in coastal and unpolluted inland environments.

The project identifies the key decay mechanisms leading to the destruction of coastal archaeological monuments at High Level (coastal erosion, flooding and collapse) and Lower Level (stone decay). The research shows that Irish stone monuments do not show comparable levels of weathering to their counterparts on the European Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines, contrasting with norms of severe weathering found in coastal locations elsewhere in Europe. The research concludes by critically evaluating the findings, and recommends a best practice methodological approach for the evaluation and conservation of coastal stone monuments.

Publications Arising from the Research:

Pavía, S, & Bolton, J. (2001) Stone Monuments Decay Study 2000: Assessment of the degree of erosion and degradation of stone monuments in the Republic of Ireland. Kilkenny. The Heritage Council

Bolton, J. (2007) Submerged Ruins” in Ashurst, J. [ed] Conservation of Ruins. Butterworth Conservation Series. Oxford. Elsevier. Pp. 212-234.

Bolton, J. (2012) “Ever decreasing circles: the implications of climate change and the deterioration of coastal archaeological monuments”. In IKUWA 3: Beyond Boundaries. Proceedings of the 3rd International Congress on Underwater Archaeology, University College London, 10-12 July 2008. Frankfurt. Roman-Germanic Commission of the German Archaeological Institute.  Pp.143-150