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Thursday, 12th October 2017

Could archaeology concerns delay Staleen Water Treatment Plant upgrade?

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This photo by Anthony Murphy shows the water pumping station at Roughgrange in the mist, looking back up Red Mountain towards the direction of the treatment plant.

The fragility of the country’s water supply network was demonstrated only too clearly to the people of Drogheda and East Meath in July when a mains water pipe burst at the Staleen Water Treatment Plant.

The week long outage and the outcry from the public and local politicians has spurred Irish Water and Louth County Council into action and work on a €24 million upgrade is expected to start soon.

We are told that this work will take about 18 months to complete but Anthony Murphy, a local journalist, photographer and author who has written several books about the ancient monuments of the Boyne Valley, thinks that, due to the sensitivity of the site, it could take much longer.

“I feel that there is very real potential for archaeology to cause delays to the construction of the new water main” he told Drogheda Life.

“Given that the route of the pipeline (or at least a portion of it) running up the side of Red Mountain is in the buffer zone of the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site, this means that at the very least archaeological monitoring of any works will have to take place.

“This means that an archaeologist will have to be on site during the duration of any digging and earth moving. While of course it’s possible that nothing significant will be seen during the works, there is the potential that discoveries will be made, for instance of a monument not previously recorded.

Murphy admits that most of the recorded monuments in the area on the northern bank of the river, inside the “Bend of the Boyne” but says we cannot imagine that there was no prehistoric or early historic activity whatsoever on the southern bank of the river.

“The potential for previously unknown monuments to be unearthed during digging for the new pipeline is significant” he says.

“Indeed a number of years ago local archaeologist Conor Brady discovered a previously unknown enclosure site at Rosnaree, on the southern bank of the River Boyne across the river from Knowth, one of the three great monuments of Brú na Bóinne.

“Another burial mound, again to the south of the Boyne, was excavated at Rossnaree in the 1940s and was found to contain burials dating to the Iron Age.

Visitors to Newgrange actually look across the valley to the site of the proposed pipeline works regularly.

“As you look from Newgrange towards Red Mountain, where the sun rises on the winter solstice and shines into the famous monument, you are looking in the general direction of the pipeline” Murphy said.

“It’s not hard to contemplate a scenario in which there might have been some activity in the vicinity of Red Mountain in ancient times.”

Given the urgent need for the pipeline replacement, it’s imperative that the work begins at the earliest opportunity. In the event of an archaeological discovery, that would potentially hold up the pipeline project for a significant period.

But Murphy says it wouldn’t be a case of saying “to hell with the archaeology, the pipeline has to take priority”.

“Because of its proximity to a World Heritage Site, any archaeology would have to be carefully unearthed and recorded – the whole world would be watching” he said.

Anthony Murphy’s latest book ‘Mythical Ireland: New Light on the Ancient Past’ will be published next month. He also manages the website

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