The County Monaghan Survey of Archaeological Monuments was commissioned by the Heritage Office of Monaghan County Council. The study comprised an assessment of archaeological monuments, and thematic work focused on significant monument types – ecclesiastical remains, megalithic tombs, castles and crannogs. The study used specialised assessment methodologies for each of the three key site types: stone monuments, earthen monuments and waterlogged (crannog) sites. The key findings of the report are:
The few upstanding stone monuments in the county (including megalithic monuments, standing stones, castles and ecclesiastical remains) show only mildly developed stone decay forms. The most significant impact to stone monuments in the county is from varying levels of biological colonisation – affecting both drystone and mortared-stone buildings. A number of ruined churches show unstable walls covered in ivy, having potential health and safety implications at sites where recent burials were noted immediately adjacent to the church walls Beneath the biological growth, stone monuments tended to show dry jointing (especially to the wall top and wall base]) and robbed windows leading to structural cracking and eventual collapse of sections of the monument. Drystone monuments (megalithic tombs and standing stones) tend to show only lower order species on the stone surface, but can become quickly concealed by vegetation, especially where located in a forestry area or where part of a field boundary.
Vegetation has a significant impact on archaeological sites, with maintenance (i.e. cutting back) of vegetation primarily carried out by allowing grazing animals on the site. Sites where cattle and sheep have been excluded tend to show rapid development of vegetation and concentrations of burrowing animals. Consequently, the widespread practice of fencing off archaeological sites may not be appropriate in many instances. Fencing off is most useful for smaller sites such as megalithic tombs vulnerable to disruption and dislodgement by the activity of heavy grazers such as cattle. However, once the grazers have been excluded from the site, a dense mid-level canopy tends to develop, ideal for burrowing animals such as rabbits, who tend to cause much greater levels of destruction to archaeological monuments. Earthen monuments such as ringforts and enclosures are particularly vulnerable to biological colonisation. Earthen monuments in the best condition tended to be those with controlled levels of grazing (i.e. an insufficient concentration of animals to cause trampling, puddling and other damage).
The monuments in the best condition in the county are National Monuments in state care such as the Round Tower and High Cross at Clones [MO 011-010], and the Round Tower at Inishkeen [MO 029-031]. However, there is a general lack of signposting and wider public awareness of the archaeological heritage of the county. While landowners tended to have a well-developed awareness of archaeological sites and monuments, no landowners consulted during the study took an active interest in their maintenance and conservation, instead adopting a “hands off” and avoidance approach.
In general, the condition of megalithic monuments examined during the study did not vary significantly from their last published description by the Archaeological Survey of Ireland in 1987. The most common intervention to megalithic tombs was the provision of timber staked wire fences across monuments forming part of a field or road boundary. In general, these fences were causing negligible damage to the monuments. However, there is a risk of established fences being replaced with a more substantial version and the dismantling of fencing crossing megalithic tombs should be encouraged.
The crannog sites tended to be in a stable condition, due to their relative inaccessibility. Only a small number of crannogs could be physically accessed due to site conditions. However, aerial photographic records combined with site visits to a small sample indicated no significant change to the descriptions found in the published inventory. The most significant threat is land improvement works.