Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 20 Nov 1929

Vol. 13 No. 2

National Monuments Bill, 1929—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the National Monuments Bill, 1929, be read a Second Time."

I wish to add my voice to the chorus of approval with which this Bill has been received in the Dáil and, as far as I know, in the country. Those of us who have been working for a number of years in the Royal Society of Antiquaries and in the local societies throughout Ireland for the objects of the Bill are exceedingly pleased that at last the Bill has been introduced, and that this country, with regard to the preservation of ancient monuments, will be brought into line with other countries of Europe. I am sure the Bill will have the approval of this House and that there will be no dissentient voice here. No matter how great our enthusiasm or how hard our work, we had to look on at many of our ancient monuments being destroyed before our eyes. We were powerless to prevent their destruction. I could give innumerable instances for the necessity of the arm of the law being used to prevent their destruction. In every part of the country everybody has seen national monuments crumbling into decay, and, still worse, being torn down by vandals who had no care for the history or traditions of the country or its culture. There are one or two cases that I would like to mention. Within the past year a ruin, an interesting old castle, near Dungarvan, County Waterford, was blown up by dynamite or some other explosive. I do not know the reason, but it would be interesting to know what became of the stones. About five years ago an Ogham stone was discovered in good condition on the Great Saltee Island, about five miles off the coast of Wexford. It was removed about two years ago without the knowledge of the owner, and nobody knows where it is. Such occurrences will be impossible in future. Section 14 will, of course, prevent excessive destruction, but we hope also that it will be possible under that section to deal with people who scratch and scribble their names on ancient abbeys and churches. They do not actually destroy but they deface and injure them. That may seem a trivial matter. It is done by thoughtless people. We hope that the Bill will not only prevent the destruction of national monuments but will arouse an interest in them and in their history.

This is really a very important measure and it is time that it was introduced. I am delighted to see that the Government has favoured its introduction, as our national monuments are among the most important of our national possessions and their preservation should be a national duty on the part of everybody interested in the intellectual progress of Ireland. Furthermore, we might take a leaf out of the book of foreign countries where they find that their national monuments are a very considerable source of revenue. There is nothing so attractive to a tourist as a national monument or antiquarian object in whatever part of the world it may be found. Our national monuments have suffered through very great neglect, and I am sorry to say, as Senator Miss Browne reminded us in her maiden speech, on which I congratulate her, that our national monuments have been very gratuitously and very grievously damaged time after time. It may be that public ignorance has to some extent been responsible for this damage, but, unquestionably, cupidity and pecuniary benefit have been largely responsible for such damage. Once the Bill passes, such proceedings will be at an end. I am particularly delighted to see that in the Bill the idea of local committees is to be instituted. Local committees and local councils consist of people who are naturally interested in matters of local interest, and it is to them that I look forward with great hope for the successful operation of this measure, which, I trust, will pass through the House very speedily, because the sooner it passes the better.

I rise to support the Bill. As regards national monuments, I think we are indebted to the Ordnance Survey Department for the maps that have been made which show nearly all the ancient monuments in the country. I have before me a map of a very small district consisting of four or five parishes in the locality between Mallow and Cork. There are marked on it one Ogham stone, four stone circles, five cromlechs, a ruined abbey and two large forts, in addition to other interesting objects. I understand that the stone circle and the dolmen mark the burial place of persons who were distinguished in ancient times. I do not know what the exact age of the stones would be, but they are probably a survival of the period corresponding to that of Tutankamen in Egypt. These circles have been carefully preserved by the occupiers on the lands on which they stand. Although the occupiers were often short of stones for use on the land I know no instance in which stones have been removed from these circles. It is also important that caves should be preserved. In this respect there is a remarkable cave, known as the Mitchelstown Cave, although it is situated near Ballyporeen in County Tipperary. It was discovered about seventy or eighty years ago, and had it been in any other country it would have been written up and put forward as an inducement to tourists to visit that country. I understand that this cave cannot be equalled by any other cave in the world. I do not know whether it would be possible under this Bill to get possession of it, but I think that an effort should be made to bring it more under the notice of people who visit the country and to make access to it easier. It would not cost very much to put it in such a way that people could visit it without danger. As regards the finding of objects of archaeological interest, I think that the finders ought to get, at least, the intrinsic value of the articles, because it is hard to expect people who find such objects to hand them over without getting some compensation. These are matters, however, which can be discussed on the Committee Stage. With the main principle of the Bill I am in entire agreement.

I also am pleased to see this Bill brought forward by the Government. It will be very popular with people who are interested in having our ancient monuments preserved. Such monuments have to a great extent been hopelessly neglected. In this matter, however, force of example can do a great deal. In this regard I may mention that a great deal has been done by a friend of mine, Father Devitt, of Clongowes College, a great authority on ancient monuments. I know that in County Kildare, at Clane, where there is an ancient monument, much has been done to improve it by building a wall and renovating the entrance. Such improvements are an indication to visitors that the people of this country have respect for the memory of the dead. Such monuments are, in a way, history in themselves. As I have said, the Bill will undoubtedly prove to be a most popular measure, and I have great pleasure in supporting it.

I would like to call attention, as showing the necessity for this Bill, to the fact that a few years ago a farmer who happened to be in possession, for the time being, of the Hill of Tara, got it into his head that the Ark of the Covenant was to be discovered there. There was a long story about it, and some people came over from England and proceeded to dig up the whole place. Of course, those who were interested in the matter were very indignant, and I remember that there was a good deal of talk about it at the time. I remember that the late Arthur Griffith was very upset about it, and he and my brother went up there with a few others. There was a skirmish with this gentleman as to whether he should be allowed to dig up the place or not. Ignorant people who do things like that have got to be stopped somehow. Another suggestion I would like to make is that a little money should be spent to excavate the caves, because a great question arises as to whether this country was inhabited in palaeolithic or neolithic times. These caves have never been excavated, as they would have been had they been situated in other countries. A few hundred pounds would go a long way towards excavating them. Some of the monuments go back an extraordinary period. The cromlechs go back to the year 3500 B.C. or sometime about the period the Pyramids were built. They are of very great importance as showing the great development of the country at that time. They show that the people were able to combine to work together, bring stones many miles over the country and put them up on these hills. These people were not uncivilised; they were certainly not savages. I welcome the Bill, and I hope that some money will be advanced for the purpose of excavating the caves.

I desire to support this Bill. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary between now and the Committee Stage to take into consideration two or three suggestions with a view to strengthening the Bill. I should first like to refer to Section 18 which deals with the control of advertisements on national monuments. The section provides that by-laws may be made by a local authority, and I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to see whether that is quite sufficient. The local authority may be an urban council, a county council, or a county borough, and if the local authority is not very much concerned, I would like it to be possible for some higher authority to preserve national monuments from hideous advertisements. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary would look into that with a view to seeing whether that particular section might not be strengthened.

Sub-section (3) of Section 21 states that the persons to be appointed members of a local advisory committee shall in every case be persons having practical experience or special knowledge of architecture, archaeology, or some kindred subject. I should like to raise the point there that a local committee may be desirable in many urban districts and of the total number—I think it is three or five—it may be only possible to get two persons with a special knowledge of architecture or archæology. You may have another person quite fitted to serve on the committee, who has a special interest but not that special practical knowledge that seems to be required by this sub-section. It would seem to me that if we were not to include that special interest in archæology or some kindred subject, we might make it more practicable for the committees to be set up in cases where the narrow limits of the sub-section would prevent such committees being set up. In Section 22 it is provided that every person who finds any archaeological object shall, within seven days after he has found such object, make a report of such finding to a member of the Gárda Síochána, but there the section ends. There is no obligation on the Gárda to do anything, and it seems to me that it is incomplete, unless there is an obligation on the Gárda to report to the Commission or at least to some authority which has charge of this matter. I submit those suggestions to the Minister with a view to his consideration and in the hope of strengthening the Bill.

I would like to support the suggestion which has been made by Senator Johnson with a view to strengthening the Bill, and also to make some suggestions of my own. I am greatly afraid that if these monuments are left indiscriminately in the care of persons who are not highly qualified, any improvements which are made on them will be destructive instead of preservative. We have many examples throughout the country where works of art, ancient works of art of that great century, the thirteenth, have been almost destroyed by so-called improvements. There was another matter referred to by Senators Linehan and Johnson.

With reference to archaeological objects, such as bronze swords and things of that description—and I may say I have seen two that were discovered within the last couple of months—it is quite right and proper that a report of the discovery should be made. It is also proper that a police officer, if it is reported to him, should send forward a report to the Dublin Museum. There is no provision at all made for the preservation of the actual things discovered. Let us say that a man discovers a bronze sword of the civilisation which we say has not yet passed and which exists in this country. There is no provision with regard to the preservation of that sword. Apparently under the Bill the finder is entitled to keep it.

There is another class of object which does not, I think, come within the scope of the Bill. If we are amending this measure I think we should introduce some amendment that will cover what I have in mind. I refer to a cannon which was used in wars that took place about 120 years ago. These were the wars in which the gallant Colonel's ancestor, the first President of the Irish Republic of the day, met an honourable death. One of these cannon was found some time ago in a County Mayo bog. It was transferred by a public official to a place fifty or sixty miles away, and it is now used as a very ornamental pier for his front gate. It ought to be possible to have an article like that regarded as an object of archaeological interest and preserved. I do not think it can be preserved under the terms of this Bill. I hope that if we do introduce an amendment dealing with matters of that character it will not be regarded as a party affair.

With regard to what has been said about reporting finds to the Gárda Síochána, will not the members of the Gárda Síochána themselves be supposed, in the ordinary course of their duties, to look out for any damage to monuments without the matter actually being reported to them? When they hear of a discovery, can they not take action without somebody reporting the matter to them? From my own knowledge of the country I am afraid that a great many people, if they hear of their neighbour digging up a sword or something of value, will not be inclined to report the matter to the Gárda. Perhaps the section covers that matter, but in my opinion the more power that is given to the Gárda the better. Somebody remarked that the Gárda Síochána should not get work of this kind, but I think that they would be quite willing to assist as far as they can in this matter, and it will be all the better to place ample power in their hands.


I assume that the House will be anxious to hear the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance (Mr. Burke) on this Bill.

I am glad to see that this Bill has got a very good reception and I hope that the same spirit will prevail during the remaining stages. There were only a few points raised that it will be necessary for me to advert to. With regard to Senator Miss Browne's point about scratching and otherwise interfering with ancient monuments, I do not think there should be any fear in that connection because Section 14 gives very wide powers. In fact, I do not think it would be possible to get any words other than those in the section that would give wider powers.

Senator Linehan inquired whether compensation would be given for finding archaeological objects. Of course it would be quite impossible for the State to undertake to compensate everybody who would find articles that would come within the definition of archaeological objects. When a person makes a find and the Keeper of the National Antiquities Section in the Museum considers it is an object worth preserving from the national point of view, he will purchase that object for a fair amount. Under the Bill it is not obligatory on him to give for the object such a price as it would fetch in the international market. Suppose, for instance, that such a thing as the Book of Kells were discovered in the country. It would be utterly impossible for the State to purchase that, and at the same time it would not be right that it should go out of the country. It is not intended to take charge of all the archaeological objects which may be of national importance; so long as they are preserved in the country the purposes of the Bill are sufficiently met.

Senator Johnson apparently was talking from a different copy of the Bill to that which I now possess. He must have had the copy of the Bill as introduced. I had some difficulty in following him because there was the Bill as dealt with on the Committee Stage in the Dáil and then there was the Bill when it had passed the Committee Stage. Under the present Bill one can report either to the Gárda Síochána or the Keeper of Antiquities in the National Museum. The Gárda Síochána being the servants of the Government will report to the proper authority. I will look into the other points that were raised before the Committee Stage and see what can be done to meet them.

Question—"That the Bill be now read a Second Time"—agreed to.