ACADEMICS and history enthusiasts have called for more to be done to protect Fermanagh’s ancient heritage, after significant damage was caused to a local high cross that is over 1,000 years old.
The Council has told the Herald it is currently investigating the damage to the east cross shaft at the Old Galloon Graveyard on Galloon Island, one of two on site from the early Christian era.
It is not yet known who or what caused the damage to the cross, which was recently discovered by visiting history buffs, including medieval stone sculpture expert Dr Megan Henvey who travelled from the University of York to assess the damage.
Dr Henvey explained she had already been concerned for the cross shaft, which was missing it’s top half after being previously damaged over the centuries, as a nearby hedge had been allowed to grow over it. She herself has since cut back the overgrowth.
After being sent a photo of the most recent damage, Dr Henvey, who is originally from Co Down, travelled to Fermanagh to see it for herself. She explained a full foot at the top of the shaft had been knocked off, which had important carvings depicted on it.
“It’s really unclear what caused the damage at the minute,” she told the Herald, noting it would not have been easy to damage the solid stone structure.
“It has been caused by something really big, and whatever did it has to have been damaged in the doing of it.”
Dr Henvey said no one had taken responsibility for the damage, with the Council stating neither its staff or contractors had been involved. She also noted the damage was likely caused some time ago as ivy had started to grow over the broken fragments of the stone.
The section of the shaft that was damaged also depicted a carving, of two men and a trumpet, that does not exist on any other high cross making it particularly important, she said.
Dr Henvey, who said there had been significant interest in the damage to the historically important cross from academics across Ireland and the UK, is due to meet with the Council to discuss the matter this Monday.
“My main interest is in making sure nothing like this happens again, and really making sure [these crosses] are looked after,” she said, adding other sites such as Downpatrick and Clonmacnoise provided a good example of how simple measures had a big impact in protecting such monuments.
History enthusiast Jarlath McKenna, who initially alerted Dr Henvey to the damage, is from Belfast but has been travelling to Fermanagh to visit Galloon for some time due to its importance.
“It was one of those things I had been keeping an eye on,” he said. “I “I was aware the cross had been damaged a few years ago and nothing was ever done about it.”
Mr McKenna said he was concerned by what he felt was a lack of interest by the Council in protecting the site, particularly in light of plans for a new Erne Pilgrimage Trail, which would take in the ancient graveyard.
“Obviously the Council has a programme in place for this trail, which will be fascinating, but they need to be looking after what they’ve got there,” he said.
When contacted by the Herald the Council said it was aware of the damage and was investigating its cause.
The spokesman added Fermanagh and Omagh was “currently undertaking a major project, the Erne Pilgrimage Trail, which includes engaging with local communities and heritage stakeholders.”
They said the trail, which is being developed in partnership with Lough Erne Landscape Partnership, would involve consultations and would “produce conservation management plans and public programmes to raise the profile of key sites, including Galloon, to ensure the preservation and protection of our significant local heritage assets located across the county.”
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