Belfast Telegraph

Aerial photos show 'miracle markings' at Co Down site with calls for construction to halt

By Michael Sheils McNamee

Calls have been made for a halt to development near a Neolithic site in Co Down after the hot weather unveiled what could be 'miracle markings' showing undiscovered archaeological finds.

The discovery has been made at Knock Iveagh in Banbridge, where a major wind turbine project has been underway since 2013.

Recent hot weather across Northern Ireland has dried the ground, and activists believe these show major archaeological discoveries hidden just beneath the surface at the site.

Aerial images of the area show distinctive markings on the sun-dried fields.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, spokeswoman for Save Knock Iveagh Arlene Copeland said: "We have always suspected there is a lot more to that surrounding area, we’ve always felt like there was more there.

"This recent spell of dry weather has given us the push to have a look. Almost like a miracle there were loads and loads of really fascinating crop marks. We are buzzing."

Mrs Copeland added her group was called on the Department of Communities' Historic Environment Division to carry out a Lidar survey of the area - a process which would use laser technology to carry out an advanced survey of the area. 

Banbridge native and Trinity College Dublin research fellow Dr Gavin Hughes said the discovery was a "rare opportunity" to confirm "the immense scale and archaeological potential of the entire Knock Iveagh landscape".

"The emergence of so many potentially unrecorded or lost archaeological features is extremely exciting news. Given similar new discoveries from the UK and Ireland, it also ably shows us that areas supposedly considered not to be of any archaeological interest can actually be very valuable  - but vulnerable - resources," he said.

Construction of wind turbines at the site has drawn controversy since planning permission was granted five years ago.

Permission was granted by the Department of the Environment, but since the reorganisation of local councils in Northern Ireland, the role of granting planning permission has passed to Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Council.

Last year a temporary stop notice was issued last October, which prevented work at the site for 28 days after a Council meeting.

Calls for work to be halted at the site while further archaeological investigation takes place at the site has been made by local Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard.

Mr Hazzard said construction at the site should be halted immediately with crop marks having appeared as a result of the recent hot weather, seeming to identify a rath or ring fort "from the early medieval period surrounded by linear features radiating outwards".

“Initial examinations of the images suggest that it was a very strongly defended large enclosure which would have also served as an important ‘Royal’ centre or Assembly site.

“In recent days the Department for Infrastructure have confirmed that they are to review the planning process which resulted in permission being granted for a turbine adjacent to this site."

The 5,000-year-old Knock Iveagh burial cairn is famed for its panoramic views, with visitors able to see Slieve Guillion, Slieve Donard, Lough Neagh and the Antrim plateau.

A spokesman for Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon District Council said it would be making no comment in response to Mr Hazzard's comments.

A Department for Communities spokeperson said: "The Department has been forwarded a number of images depicting crop marks and potential new archaeological sites around Knock Iveagh. Some images enhance our understanding of already recorded sites in the area, including a large enclosure to the north-west of the hill.

"As a result of the particularly dry weather, this has been revealed to contain a previously unrecognised central circular feature.

"We will be carrying out further work in the coming weeks to assess the crop marks and, where we can establish that there are new archaeological sites, we will add these as new entries to the Northern Ireland Sites and Monuments Record. Entries in the Record are a material consideration under planning policy.”

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