I referred to the neglect of our archaeological heritage in the Sligo area, an area highlighted in recent surveys as one of the richest in monuments and sites. As a total of 4,500 such sites and monuments were in County Sligo in recent surveys, the neglect of that area is regrettable. A primary example of that neglect relates to Knocknashee Hill Fort in south County Sligo, the third largest hill fort in the country with 30 hut dwellings dating back to 1000 BC and a megalithic passage tomb dating pehaps to the year 3000 BC. This has been described as a prehistoric proto-town, possibly a major socio-economic, political and tribal centre of the day in the province. There are no signposts indicating the location of the site. Once reached, there is no information about it. I accept that the Office of Public Works has an extremely good record and I commend its officials for the work, but they have fallen down in this area. I hope the Minister of State will have good news about the Knocknashee Hill Fort.
What is happening in regard to the Armada wrecks found off Streadagh strand in the early 1980s? Some of the finest Armada artefacts can be found under the sand a short distance out to sea. I accept there are legal problems in that regard and I commend the efforts of the Minister and his predecessors, to ensure that those artefacts remain the property of the State. It should be possible to reach an agreement whereby work can begin on taking up the 59 cannon and establishing an Armada museum and a regional folk museum in the area. This is Yeats' country, a short distance down the strand from Lissadel House, beside Drumcliffe and in the shadow of Benbulben. A museum located in that area would be a major attraction for tourists. The Minister of State is familiar with the area and will probably become more familiar with it in the next few weeks and months as he campaigns to get further away from Donegal than he is at present.
This Bill originated from the discovery of the Derrynaflan hoard and I concur with the Minister that there should be no loophole preventing all treasures discovered becoming the property of the State. One of the saddest things I ever witnessed on television was the man who discovered that treasure celebrating with champagne following the first court case which ruled in his favour. Fortunately, the decision of the Supreme Court was different and under this legislation we are underpinning the fundamental finding of the Supreme Court in the Derrynaflan case. We should leave no stone unturned in ensuring that all treasures found belong to the State.
The discoverer of the Derrynaflan hoard may not have been entirely to blame for the introduction of this legislation. The National Museum, perhaps because of lack of finance or attrition, was parsimonious in the rewards it offered for handing over discovered treasures. The finders of the Moylough Belt — one of the great treasures in the museum found in a bog outside Tubbercurry — received only a few pounds. We were too tight fisted and the National Museum, for whatever reason, was not prepared to offer proper rewards for such finds. In contrast, during my term in office, when the National Museum came under the remit of the Department of the Taoiseach, in one week we found a satisfactory solution to the discovery of the Lough Kinale book shrine, another of the great treasures in the museum. The finders were satisfied, the museum was happy with the payment made and all the legalities were wrapped up within one week of the treasure being discovered by a diver in a lake in the Westmeath-Longford area. With common sense on all sides it is possible to reach amicable agreements. The general perception among the public is that such treasures rightly belong to the State.
Traditionally the staff of the National Museum have been dedicated, and work against the odds. Regrettably the museum has been neglected by the authorities. The structure under which the museum is governed has been inadequate. The museum was merely an appendage to and an afterthought of the Department of Education. While the Minister of the day attended the great ceremonial occasions when treasures were exhibited or to be transported abroad, little recognition was given to the museum and the institution was allowed to fall into decay. The board of visitors, the institution governing the museum, was given no power and no cognisance was taken of its excellent recommendations. Will the museum be under the control of the Department of Finance or a board of governors, like the National Gallery?
I am pleased the Minister has acquired Collins Barracks for exhibition space. In the past there was a lack of exhibition space in the artistic and culture areas but that problem has been resolved in Dublin by the acquisition of the Royal Hibernian Academy, the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham and recently Collins Barracks. Around the country excellent centres have been made available for museums and galleries. We should now concentrate on the use to which they should be put. The Minister should ensure that all the artefacts under the control of the National Museum will be displayed in a lively manner, using modern technology, in the various centres around the country. The Minister should not break up the great national collections but that should not prohibit the establishment of regional museums in Tipperary, Sligo, Galway, Donegal or other counties. Departmental policy should be directed towards establishing such museums.
Our national folk collection, one of the greatest in western countries, has never been exhibited. It has been stored in boxes for 50 years behind ten to 12 foot high walls in the former Dangan reformatory. I presided over the opening of some of those boxes. Due to the enthusiasm of collectors in the past that collection comprises four to ten examples of each type of artefact. It would be possible to maintain the national collection and also to display collections in regional folk museums. Presentation is important in the establishment of such museums. Modern techniques should be used and craftsmen should display their skills and work on the museum site.
The Minister should establish regional museums which will benefit our heritage and our tourism industry. Nothing is more attractive to foreign tourists and to Irish adults and school children than a well presented folk museum. If the Minister is successful in this area I would be pleased to see an interpretative centre built in his honour. There is great potential in that area and I urge him to concentrate on developing it.
I have outlined what could be achieved in Sligo by the establishment of a folk museum and an Armada museum. Sligo is a significant historical area due to its association with Yeats and is close to Lissadel, Ben Bulben and Drumcliffe. It is one of the richest counties in respect of monuments with 4,500 sites listed. Some, like Carraroe, are famous and Knocknashee Hill Fort is one of the great hill forts in the country and an area that should be well known but is not. It requires immediate attention by the Office of Public Works. If folk museums were established in Sligo and Donegal it would benefit the north-west region and tourists would flock to visit them just as they do the Céide Fields in Mayo. I support the Bill which puts into legislative form a clear, unequivocal right to our heritage and provides for action against those who would seek to diminish it. It is a worthy Bill and I am pleased to have contributed to it.