The built heritage of the Burren is of enormous significance, representing one of the most intact, extensive and diverse archaeological landscapes in Ireland and beyond. Thousands of monuments spanning 6,000 years of human occupation are found in the region. The Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) provides a numbered list of protected archaeological sites and monuments together with a set of maps indicating their location and extent. This record must be consulted in the course of any developments. The record can be viewed at www.archaeology.ie/archaeological-survey-database or on the new Heritage viewer www.heritagemaps.ie
Archaeological sites in the Burren vary widely – from ‘points’ like the iconic Poulnabrone dolmen, to extensive areas of stone age mound walls – which are referred to as Archaeological complexes. There are also a large number of historical and cultural sites, from Medieval churches to 20th century goat cros – many of which enjoy no protection. Probably the most significant threat to this built heritage is the withdrawal of farming activity from the Burren uplands where much of this heritage is located. This results in scrub encroachment and the damage to or occlusion of sites. Land improvement work is also a threat – though less so of late – as is the growing level of tourism and the associated damage that may result from common practices such as building mini-dolmens.
Who is supporting built heritage conservation in the Burren?
The main body charged with the protection of the Burren archaeological heritage is the National Monuments Service (www.archaeology.ie). The conservation and provision of visitor services at these monuments is the responsibility of the Office of Public Works. If a landowner wants to undertake work that will impact on an archaeological site or complex, he/she will require written consent from NMS. Failure to do so, or damaging any archaeological site, may result in prosecution.
The Burrenbeo Conservation Volunteers (BCVs) are a group of local enthusiasts who carry out monthly conservation works, often involving the mapping, excavation and analysis of archaeological sites and artefacts.
The Burren Programme (www.burrenlife.com), a bespoke Agri Environmental Programme for the Burren, works with farmers to conserve the built heritage of the Burren. Working closely with the Burren Field Monument Advisor (FMA) – a position part-funded by the Heritage Council – the focus of their approach is to inform and engage farmers in their own archaeology, and give them the guidance and support required to carry out farm conservation works legally and without causing any damage. Such necessary works include the repair of stone walls and the removal of invasive scrub from archaeological sites.
The Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark Official (www.burrengeopark.ie) carries out monitoring and research work with regard to visitor usage of, and impact on, the built heritage of the Burren as well as proposing best practice to offset damaging activities.