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battlefield at Aughrim

From the Galway Advertiser, by Kernan Andrews

Much precious archaeology at the battlefield at Aughrim could be lost forever due to the new N6 dual carriageway and there is neither the legislation nor the political will to do anything about it, according to one archaeologist.

A turning point in Irish history, the Battle of Aughrim took place near the small county Galway village in 1691. It marked the last major battle in a conflict which saw Ireland become an international theatre of war. Aughrim was also the last stand of the Jacobites - supporters of England's James II - against the Williamites. It was one the bloodiest battles to be fought in Ireland with more than 7,000 soldiers killed in a matter of hours.

In recent years archaeologists and historians have expressed concern over the future of the area as plans to upgrade the N6 Galway to Ballinasloe road - which will partly run through Aughrim - could destroy a site of considerable historic importance.

The issue has come to prominence again as the proposed N6 dual carriageway has been given the go ahead by An Bord Pleanala. In its decision ABP called for the proposed new road to be at or below ground level at the Battle of Aughrim site. however this could still see much valuable archaeology destroyed according to Natasha Ferguson, an archaeologist studying for a postgraduate degree at NUI, Galway and who is currently working on the Aughrim battlefield.

"According to the Environmental Impact Statement, the N6 is going through the edges of the site, but it will affect the topsoil of the entire battlefield and in battlefield archaeology, topsoil is the most important thing," she told the Galway Advertiser. "That's where you will make finds such as musket balls, buttons from uniforms, pipes, buckles, and knives - material that gives us an insight into 17th century military life. We can tell a great deal from these personal items but we can't learn anything if the topsoil is affected without it being properly recorded.

"Excavations are being carried out but far more work is needed. Also this landscape should be revered as the last place of rest for thousands of people from Ireland, Britain, France, Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany."

Ms Ferguson is concerned by the fact that battlefields are not regarded in Irish legislation as archaeological sites or as monuments. She says the approach in Britain to battlefields could be useful for Ireland to follow.

"Historic Scotland and English Heritage have a battlefield register which define them as archaeological landscapes," she said. "Developers then know this is a sensitive area and planning permission with strict guidelines must be followed. It doesn't stop development but people are informed and there are definitions of the site and its boundaries and people know what can and cannot be done. At the moment the Office of Public Works is making a draft of Ireland's battlefields to protect them but what is needed is more information out there."

Ms Ferguson said Aughrim is far too important to be left unrecorded properly and the public should raise the issue with local authorities and the Government.

"There is no legislation to protect battlefields as archaeological landscapes," she said. "The public need to start hassling the Government and land developers and local authorities and say `This is our heritage and it needs to be protected'. People need to keep themselves informed and write letters to the council and to the media. People have a right to protest.

Every day a little piece of history is destroyed and that's part of our heritage that can never be replaced."

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