Into the Kingdom

To the Skelligs

The Kingdom? No, we didn’t go to Britain – we went to Kerry. It’s always been called the Kingdom, possibly based on ancient Irish precedents, although other theories abound. Many people think it’s because of the sheer magnificence of the scenery, and I wouldn’t disagree.

Ballinskelligs Bay

Ballinskelligs Bay. The first photograph is also Ballinskelligs Bay, with a glimpse of the famous Skelligs Islands in the background – subject of a future post, we hope!

Our journey took us on the Ring of Kerry, along the south side of the Iveragh Peninsula, by the sea. This is prime tourist territory – bus after bus passed us and every lay-by was thronged with camera-wielding tourists, including us. We came back through the middle of the peninsula, through deep valleys and high mountain passes.

To Ballaghbeama

Not for the tour busses!

These are not roads that busses can manoeuvre through, so we had it mostly to ourselves, the locals, and a few tourists armed with small cars and good maps. I love this Iveragh backcountry. It’s where I spent my student days, conducting my research. I even recognised the place where I crashed my Honda 50 into a bog.

Ballaghasheen Pass

Although it seems totally mountainous, vast sheltered valleys occupy some of the hinterland of the Iveragh Peninsula  

We visited two stone forts, the mighty Staigue and the lesser-known Loher, and of course some rock art. Staigue Fort is generally reckoned to be Iron Age (about 250AD), while Loher, although very similar, was built later, around the 9th Century.

Staigue Interior and outlook

Loher Stone Fort
Staigue Fort (upper), at the head of a long valley, commands views to the sea. Loher is also strategically sited with extensive views all around.

We toured Daniel O’Connell’s House at Derrynane and took the Nature Trail walk along the dunes, using the app developed by local man Vincent Hyland.

Shoreline walk

Wild flowers a-plenty on the dunes at Derrynane. Top: Sea Pinks and Sea Sandwort. Bottom: Pyramidal Orchid and Kidney Vetch

We searched in vain for the holy well devoted to Saint Crohane, patron saint of Caherdaniel – we’ll have to go back with Amanda to help us find it.

Across to the Beara

We didn’t find St Crohane’s well but when we finished our search, in twilight, this is what was waiting for us. The mountain range in the background is the Beara Peninsula in Cork

In fact, the primary purpose of our trip was to re-connect with cousins that I haven’t seen for about 45 years. The last time I saw Annie and her siblings they were kids, and we were all piled on to a donkey and cart in a vain attempt to get from Lamb’s Head to Staigue Fort. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say that the donkey came out the winner. Most of the family still live around Caherdaniel, in jaw- dropping surroundings, and we were accommodated and hosted with true Kerry hospitality.

The view from Annie's

Top: The view from Annie’s house, across to Lamb’s Head where the family grew up

Along the way we saw a house shaped like a ship (Robert has more – much more – about this!), had our first experience of bottle-feeding a lamb, and we watched Rex the sheepdog gently herd a flock of chickens into their pen for the night. We visited my cousin Betty’s grave – she died a few months ago, the heart of the family, much mourned. It was, we hope, the first of many visits, back and forth.

Abbey Island

Abbey Island, Betty’s last resting place, must be one of Ireland’s most beautiful graveyards. To access it, you must walk across the sand and keep an eye out for high tides. The original monastic site was founded by St Finian in the sixth Century, although the ruined church, Ahamore Abbey, probably dates from the 10th Century.

This post is to give you a flavour for our neighbouring county and to show you why it is justly famous for its history and archaeology, but most of all for what is surely some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.

Lamb's Head to Scariff and Deenish IslandsScarrif and Deenish are the two islands out from Derrynane Bay. Uninhabited for 40 years, they are the site of salmon farms now. We walked down Lamb’s Head to get a better view of them.

Tiny green fields

As in West Cork, everywhere in Kerry you can see the traces of tiny settlements. Abandoned long ago, possibly after the famine, each field may have provided enough potatoes for one family. Now only the sheep graze peacefully.

Ballaghbeama Gap

We headed home through the Ballaghbeama Gap. On the south side is Ireland’s greatest concentration of prehistoric rock art. We wrote about this in our post Derrynablaha Expedition.

Down from Ballaghbeama

Heading down towards Derrynablaha and home

Derrynane Sunset

It was hard to leave Derrynane!

Launched!

A joint post by Finola and Robert

Mingling

Hallowe’en (All Hallows – Samhain) was the perfect day to launch our Prehistoric Rock Art Exhibition at the Cork Public Museum. As Finola said in her remarks at the opening, it’s a time when the veil between two worlds is at its thinnest: in this case, it’s the veil between an ancient time and the present day. We hope the exhibition emphasises the work of our distant ancestors who have inscribed the landscape and given us the enigma that is Rock Art.

Blank Canvass

Almost there
Before the Exhibition – Robert contemplates the blank canvas (top) and installation work in progress (below)

As our regular readers will know, the exhibition has been a very successful collaborative effort: Finola and Robert (providing drawings, explanations and the overall design); Keith Payne, a West Cork painter whose work is inspired by ancient art; Ken Williams, the excellent photographer of megaliths and monuments; the staff of Cork Public Museum, including intern Clare Busher O’Sullivan who came up with the idea and Dan Breen, Assistant Curator and his team, who made sure it all happened.

The Team

The Core Team: Clare Busher O’Sullivan, Ken Williams, Keith Payne, Finola Finlay, Robert Harris and Dan Breen

After some intensive days, on site and off, it has all come together and was launched yesterday. It was a grand launch: Firstly, William O’Brien – Professor of Archaeology at UCC – outlined a history of rock art studies and research which started back in the nineteenth century. He mentioned a predecessor in the department – Professor Michael J O’Kelly – who was born exactly 100 years ago and is best known for his excavations and restoration work at Newgrange, the Boyne Valley passage tomb: Finola worked on those excavations and it was Professor O’Kelly who suggested that she should carry out the research on rock art in Cork and Kerry which led to her Master’s thesis on the subject in 1973 – and, 42 years later, to the undertaking of this exhibition.

Professor Michael J O’Kelly (left) was renowned for his work at Newgrange (right)

Next up was Finola, who told us more about her expeditions back in the early 1970s. In those days when the boreens of rural Ireland were mostly populated by donkey carts her own travel was by means of her brother’s Honda 50 motorcycle, and we pictured her loaded down with compass, tapes, chains, chalk and tracing paper – a recording methodology now completely out of favour. But the result was a set of beautiful monochrome illustrations that form the core of the exhibition.

Coomasaharn

Rock Art: a detail of the picking technique (top left), and Finola’s drawings from 1973

In our modern days non-invasive recording methods have to be used: Ken Williams has developed a very effective method of photography using slave flash units to provide low angle lighting over the carved rocks, which brings the maximum level of detail out of the panels. The exhibition contains many fine examples of Ken’s work in this field.

Ken Williams in action: at the Bohonagh stone circle (left) and in the Derrynablaha townland, Kerry (right)

Finola also talked about Keith Payne’s work. He produces large and visually striking paintings based on particular rock art motifs. Two of these artworks are in the exhibition and will inevitably draw the eye, providing a good and colourful counterpart to Finola’s drawings.

Keith Payne at the hanging (left) and at the launch, in front of the remarkable Derreennaclogh stone (right)

The official launch was in the capable hands of Ann Lynch, now Chief Archaeologist at the Irish National Monuments Office. Ann and Finola were fellow students at UCC. Ann outlined the work of her department in recording Ireland’s monuments – and the difficulties involved in pursuing the preservation and protection of these monuments, including Rock Art – before formally declaring the exhibition open.

Ann declares it open

Ann Lynch, Chief Archaeologist at the National Monuments Office, declares the Exhibition open

Noteworthy exhibits include one piece of Rock Art – the Bluid Stone from County Cork – which is in the safe keeping of the Museum, and will remain on permanent display after the exhibition closes at the end of February next year. The Museum also houses an example of passage grave art from Cape Clear island (prominent in our own view from Nead an Iolair).

Tired

Fine Detail: the Bluid Stone under close inspection

Other exhibits include Ken’s superb photo of the iconic stone at Derrynablaha, Co Kerry, in its panoramic setting of a Neolithic landscape. This occupies the whole of the end wall – and is simply beautiful.

Gazing

Visitors are surprised to see much of the floorspace taken up with a 70% life-sized image of the stone at Derreennaclogh: some hesitate to walk over it, but the printing is on hard-wearing vinyl, so feel free. The idea is to give you the feel of what it’s like to discover and explore the Rock Art out in the field. We have to mention how impressed we have been with the printing work carried out by Hacketts of Cork in the preparation of the exhibition – in particular, we were fascinated to watch the professionalism of their installation of the large items.

Yes – that floor can be walked on!

The timescale is set admirably by Alex Lee’s ‘Neolithic Settlement’ on the approach to the exhibition room. It’s well worth studying closely all the artefacts set out in this, and imagining what life must have been like for our artist ancestors in Ireland four or five thousand years ago.

Alex

Alex Lee at work on the Neolithic Settlement

We were delighted by how many of our friends from West Cork and beyond attended the opening, and gave us positive feedback. If you go during the next four months, please sign the visitors’ book. We are so grateful to our friends Amanda and Peter Clarke for being so supportive throughout – and for taking most of these photographs of the event: very many thanks.

Earnest discussions (left) and one of Ken’s superb photographs (right)

Our own day was rounded off by a visit to the Shandon Dragon festival, which processed through the centre of Cork in the evening – another unmissable event which reminds us of ancient times and long-held beliefs…

Shandon Dragon

Hallowe’en: The Shandon Dragon Procession makes its way through Cork City

Derrynablaha Expedition

Derrynablaha in all its glory

Derrynablaha in all its glory

It’s an almost entirely unknown national treasure – a valley of breathtaking grandeur dotted with the greatest concentration of prehistoric rock art in Ireland.

In Derreeny, Looking down the Kealduff Valley

In Derreeny, Looking down the Kealduff Valley

Derrynablaha (Little Oak Wood of the Flowers) is in Kerry, right in the heart of the Iveragh Peninsula (better known as the Ring of Kerry), on one of the few narrow roads that traverse the Peninsula. The rock art has been known for many years – the first paper about it appeared in the early 1960s, curiously, by an Italian rock art expert, Emmanuel Anati. The Cork husband/wife team of Michael and Claire O’Kelly traversed the valley, finding many new pieces and leaving extensive notes. Elizabeth Shee, the leading expert on passage grave art, added to the literature in the early 70s. In 1972 and 73 I (Finola Finlay) recorded and drew all the known examples, using the tracing techniques of the day. Blaze O’Connor and Avril Purcell both wrote about Derrynablaha in the early years of the 21st Century, relating the rock art to the landscape it occupied. Many more pieces came to light in the adjoining townland of Derreeny and were recorded by Ann O’Sullivan and John Sheehan in their Survey of the Iveragh Peninsula. Rose-Mary Cussen examined the art about five years ago, looking for patterns in the enigmatic carvings while other scholars have included Derrynablaha as part of a focus on Irish prehistory.  A few photographers have attempted to capture images of the art, but none more so than Ken Williams, of the outstanding Shadows and Stone website.

Robert, Clare, Finola, Elizabeth and Avril, checking the records and GPS readings. (Photo © Ken Williams)

Robert, Clare, Finola, Elizabeth and Avril, checking the records and GPS readings. (Photo © Ken Williams)

This weekend, several of these rock art enthusiasts and experts came together for a unique expedition to Derynablaha and Derreeny. Elizabeth Shee, myself, Avril Purcell, Rose-Mary Cussen, and Ken Williams took part, accompanied by Robert Harris (see his take on this special place) and Clare O’Sullivan, a UCC undergraduate. Our objective was to visit as many of the panels as possible and to assess what has changed in the landscape in the 65 years since it was first described in academic journals. (See the end of this page for links to other Rock Art topics we have  posted over the last couple of years.)

This one wasn't too hard to find

This one wasn’t too hard to spot

Finding the panels was the first challenge! We had all the information from the National Monuments records, including GPS locations for each rock. However, GPS readings can vary, and many of the ones we were using for Derrynablaha were from the early days of GPS and could be 30m out or even more. Apart from the small fields around the original farmhouse, this is a landscape of bog, gorse and tall grasses, of steep hillsides and tumbling streams, of numberless boulders and outcrops. It was, we think, populated by early herding agriculturalists in the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods. Historically, it supported a sizeable population in pre-Famine times (ruined cottages dot the land) and one sheep farm still operates now. Finding the rock art needle in the landscape haystack took time and patience, sharp eyes, and the good memories of those who had been there more recently than I. Where the GPS recording let us down we turned to the meticulous notes made by Claire O’Kelly: notes that said things like “keep the stream to your right and the large triangular rock in view and the rock is a short way below the wire fence.” These notes turned up trumps more than once.

The rock art is NOT on the large panel, but on the tiny stone by Robert's knee.

The rock art is NOT on the large panel, but on the tiny stone by Robert’s knee

In the end we located all but one panel of the ones we were tracking. The Derreeny rocks were easier to find as the GPS readings were more accurate. It was exhausting and exhilarating work and reminded us yet again how difficult this art can be to find and to see. While some panels were clear and sharp, others were weathered and lichened to the point of invisibility. For some, my drawings were needed to appreciate the full extent of the carvings. (I was feeling pretty pleased with myself about these drawings until we discovered one panel on Day 2 for which my drawing was mirror-imaged in my thesis. Fortunately, the Sullivan and Sheehan Survey had noted and corrected this in their work.)

Day 2 Crew: Ken, Rose-Mary, Finola, and Robert taking the photo.

Day 2 Crew: Ken, Rose-Mary, Finola, and Robert taking the photo

On day 2 the team consisted of Ken, Finola, Robert and Rose-Mary and we spent our time on the most southerly examples in Derrynablaha, especially the large tabular rock and its associated rosette stone. One of the most extensively carved pieces of rock art in Ireland, this iconic piece commands a panoramic view of the whole area, extending to Lough Brin to the east, the Ballaghbeama Gap to the north and to Kealduff River valley to the south. Leaning against it is a stone with a superb example of the rare “rosette” motif.

For really excellent images of this stone, view it on Ken’s Shadows and Stone site.

We also lingered over an unusual panel with multiple lines, cupmarks and rosettes: this one was so faint that Ken resorted to having us provide shade using his jacket and our bodies. The results he got, with his flash technology, revealed astonishing detail totally invisible to the naked eye.

How he got that high tech photo © Ken Williams

How he got that high tech photo  

My drawing, done over 40 years ago.

My drawing, done over 40 years ago

Our second objective was to assess the general ‘health’ of the rock art and its context. Mostly, we were encouraged: very little has changed in this valley over the years. It is remote and the land is marginal, suitable mainly as rough mountain pasture for sheep. The landowner knows about the rock art and is careful not to disturb or damage it.

 lDerrynablahaandscape - changed and unchanged. Note forestry activity.

Derrynablaha landscape – changed and unchanged: note forestry activity

However, two factors threaten the rock art even in this far-flung region. The first is forestry: a sizeable plantation occupies an area east of the road and at the south end of the townland. We didn’t have time to visit this area, but noted in the National Monuments records that two previously identified pieces of rock art are now within the forest boundaries and can no longer be found. The second factor is land-clearing for the purposes of improving the grazing fields. Farmers are encouraged to do this and there are grants available through European funds. We failed to find one piece that was located in such a cleared area, despite extensive searching over two days. Hopefully, this is a function of erroneous GPS readings and the rock still exists – but it is worrying.

Elizabeth, Robert, Avril, Clare, Finola and Ken. Day 1 Team by Derreeny rock art.

Elizabeth, Robert, Avril, Clare, Finola and Ken. Day 1 Team at Derreeny rock art  © Ken Williams

Derrynablaha and Derreeny have always been special places. We can only speculate on the meaning or meanings of the extraordinary numbers of carved rocks in this landscape. Were they familiar, even domestic, expressions of belief or supplication? Did they mark routeways through the mountainous territory or boundaries between clan lands? Were they, or some of them, hidden ritual sites known only to certain members of a priestly class? Did the carvings identify suitable spots for calendrical observations? Did they have altogether different functions that we have yet to comprehend? We may never know the full extent of the meaning of the rock art to those who carved them. Yet – we do know their meaning to us. As the largest body of this category of prehistoric site in Ireland, this collection constitutes a vital link to our most distant past.

Leaving Derrynablaha

Leaving Derrynablaha

Other Rock Art Posts in Roaringwater Journal

Rock Art Ramblings… away from home!

Our Rock Art Exhibition!

Rock Art in Danger

Rock Art

Equinox Adventure

Diving for Petroglyphs

The Stones Speak

Here Comes the Sun

Enigma

Tiny and perfect example of Derrynablaha rock art

Tiny and perfect example of Derrynablaha rock art

Glen of Ghosts

glen

There are some places in this world that touch you deeply in the soul. Derrynablaha has that affect on me. I first went there a few years ago and immediately felt that it was alive with ghosts. I was in search of Rock Art then, and Finola had told me about her experiences in the early 1970s – an intrepid young student on an old Honda 50 loaded down with sheets of cellophane and measuring rods. She had met the O’Sullivans who dwelt in the single farmstead there – they plied her with tea and directed her to the rocks above the house where treasures awaited. When I drove into that valley 40 years later I found only the ruins of the O’Sullivan cottage. It was a poignant moment – the mountains were empty: in some ways it felt like the loneliest place on earth, yet also one of the most beautiful.

The old O'Sullivan farmstead returning to nature

The old O’Sullivan farmstead returning to nature

What kind of a beauty is that? A mixtures of lives vanished and nature healing the wounds. Sheep still grazing on those rock-strewn fields: men from another valley tending them – O’Sullivans also, but – they claim – no relation to the last generation there.

New life among the old stones...

New life among old stones…

Those lives are recently gone but, as I first climbed the precipitous slopes to the west of the old farm, I felt the presence of other ghosts – from a more ancient time. It’s a long haul up to the iconic carved stone which commands the wide view across to Lough Brin but, each time I make that journey, I feel more strongly drawn to the people who made that place their home – or possibly their temple.

View from the 'very special' carved stone

View from the ‘very special’ carved stone

This expedition must have been my fourth visit to the hillside which commands such a magnificent view over the townlands of Derrynablaha and Derreeny and which takes in the lake on the valley floor – seemingly a mere puddle from that elevation yet  in fact covering several hectares. On each visit I find more evidence of prehistoric occupation: on this occasion it appeared to me that the carved stone is sited on the edge of a circular plateau; I could trace old retaining walls below, some circles which could have been hut walls half lost in the undergrowth and – above this site – a wall of boulders which might have dammed the stream which runs down the mountain here, to create a little reservoir. I also saw the vestiges of a wedge tomb – aligned east to west – and the base of a cairn… All this, of course, is my imagination at work, but it’s a place where the imagination can take wing.

sky pan

Panoramas from the plateau - east and west

Panoramas from the plateau – east and west

I have so many questions… Was there once tree growth at this level? Derrynablaha means ‘little oak wood of the flowers’ – I imagine something like the stunted oak forests on Dartmoor, where the ancient trees are gnarled and twisted from the ravages of a harsh climate, but which cling to the rocky terrain. But possibly the plateau was raised above this – a place where visibility over the whole landscape was important and visitors anticipated in advance. In my dreams I see fires burning up there in the night, figures dancing, songs being sung… Are they really Wolves and Deer I see moving around the fires, or are they my own ancestors wearing grotesque masks?

clouds

Dream clouds?

Why shouldn’t I have these thoughts? After all, technology might have changed over 5,000 years – but our minds haven’t. It’s not so hard to try and understand our forebears: I like to think they appreciated the power of the pristine landscapes which they inhabited – just as we are awed by the magnificence of their old haunts as we see them today.

Wedge tomb on the plateau?

Wedge tomb on the plateau?

Rock Art in Danger

The age-old landscape of Derrynablaha

The age-old landscape of Derrynablaha

Both Robert and I have written about prehistoric rock art several times in this Journal – here and here, here and here. Readers will know that it was the subject of my Master’s thesis in the early 70s, and that it has become a shared passion for us both as well as a retirement project. One aim of this project for me is to assess how rock art has been doing, as a category of ancient monument in Ireland, since I last studied it intensively forty years ago.

Benign neglect - rock art in a cow field

Benign neglect – rock art in a cow field

Within the archaeological community there is discussion about how best to protect rock art sites. The arguments take shape around opposing approaches: the first alternative is to promote and advertise rock art, to make it as well-known as other monuments such as megalithic tombs and medieval friaries; the second is to leave it lie in obscurity. 

Spain has a lot of rock art, and the approach there is to encourage people to come and view it and explore it. There are visitor centres, interpretive signs, rock art trails. While the results have been positive on the whole, raising the profile of this class of site and increasing the understanding and respect of visitors, it has not been without challenges: some damage and vandalism has occurred on carved panels.

Vandalism to rock art in Libya

Vandalism to rock art in Libya

In Ireland we have taken a low profile approach when it comes to promoting rock art. Its very obscurity, the argument goes, is its protection. All known rock art sites are recorded in the database maintained by the National Monuments Service, and anyone planning on building on or developing a piece of property must check plans against this inventory. But apart from that we do not advertise the presence of rock art with signs or centres. A few are marked on the Ordnance Survey maps, but are difficult to find. The folk-beliefs of country people have helped in the past – where any prehistoric site was known it was never interfered with for fear of the bad luck that would follow. 

Under all that lichen lie many cupmarks

Under all that lichen lie many cupmarks

Weathering and lichen growth are not kind to carved surfaces over time and rock art in Ireland has not been protected from such natural occurences. On the  whole, however, the  fact that rock art is little known has indeed functioned to ensure that carved panels remain in place and my own sympathies would have lain therefore with the second argument.  However, times are a-changing in Ireland and I have become alarmed at the prospects for the conservation of this important prehistoric resource. I have come to believe that the more people who know about rock art, who know the locations of the rocks and can keep an eye on them, the better. 

Robert and I have spent a year now, in West Cork, visiting rock art sites and re-recording them. I have begun to understand in that time that there are two main dangers to rock art in the Irish landscape: ignorance and the economy. 

If only we'd known, we would never have built it on top of the rock art!

If only we’d known, we would never have built it on top of the rock art!

First: lack of awareness. By this I mean that in general people simply do not know that there is a class of ancient monument known as rock art. They don’t know what it looks like and don’t recognise it when they walk over it. This is not their fault – rock art can be almost impossible to see on the surface of a weathered rock on a grey day, even when you know it’s there. We have described how in one case a building was erected on top of rock art. In another case we are aware of, a piece of rock art was unrecognised and probably damaged when a homeowner erected an ornamental stone circle beside it. In both cases the homeowners would have protected the rock art had they known it was there, or understood the extent of it.

The shadows are from a newly built stone circle

The shadows are from a newly built stone circle

Second: the economy. Here, two huge threats to rock art exist. The first is in the rapid growth of forestry plantations in Ireland – a practice that is altering the landscape and obscuring what lies underneath in many areas of the country. We have experienced this first hand: rock art in a nearby townland can no longer be located in a young forestry plantation. 

The second is even more serious – the threat lies in the encouragement to farmers to improve and bring into production previously marginal land. All around us in West Cork the sound of the rock breaker is as common as the lowing of cattle. Vast stretches of rocky land, suitable only for a few sheep, are being levelled, drained and seeded. Green fields are appearing where once only scrubby grass and bog could grow.

The excavator is at the top left of the photograph

The excavator is at the top left of the photograph

We saw first hand what this could mean on a recent trip to Kerry. In the mountains above Sneem, on the Iveragh Peninsula, lies the lonely valley of Derrynablaha. It is spectacularly beautiful, but wild and remote. Forty years ago the one house in the valley was occupied by the farmer who ran his sheep on the mountain slope. That house is now in ruins: a new owner until recently simply carried on the use of the land for sheep. Imagine our surprise and concern, therefore, when, on a recent trip to Derrynablaha, we observed an enormous excavator working in the fields above the house. It had been there for some time. The ground had been levelled, all rocks and old field boundaries had been cleared away, and the land is now ready to be seeded and made into an enormous and pristine green field.

So what’s the problem with this? It’s alarming because Derrynablaha, and the neighbouring townland of Derreeny, contain the largest and most significant concentration of rock art in Ireland. Forty examples have been found and recorded so far. Some of them lie right beside the new field. An assessment by the National Monuments Service took place immediately and they will monitor closely now that they know this is happening. However, damage has already been done. Rock art does not exist in a vacuum – it is part of a prehistoric landscape and nowhere is this more so than in Derrynablaha, where the land has been lightly lived on over the centuries and where prehistoric and historic features lie just beneath the boggy turf. 

It's hard to see, isn't it? But tjis is one of the most iconic pieces of Irish rock art

It’s hard to see, isn’t it? But this boulder at Derrynablaha is one of the most iconic pieces of Irish rock art

The farmer, of course, is just doing his job. With the encouragement of the grants system he is improving his land, trying to be more competitive and hoping to pass on a viable farm to his son, so the young man won’t have to emigrate like many of his contemporaries. He is aware of the rock art and is avoiding direct contact with any pieces he knows. He needs no planning permission (a process that would have involved and alerted the County Archaeologist) to do what he’s doing.

Just part of the surface of the Derrynablaha rock above

Just part of the surface of the Derrynablaha rock above

In both these scenarios – lack of awareness and the economy – the intentions of everyone concerned were honourable. But honourable intentions won’t save rock art from damage and destruction. Our only hope lies in a Save the Whales approach: the more people who know about and appreciate rock art and who are committed to helping to preserve this precious resource, the better its chances of survival will be. 

Derrynablaha - current landscape at that rock

Derrynablaha – current landscape at that rock