Cookstown’s ancient archeological sites at risk

Tullyhogue Fort.mm09-362sr
Tullyhogue Fort.mm09-362sr

Cookstown District’s rich heritage of ancient hill forts is in danger of being lost to the plough or damaged by development.

Only 16 percent of the district’s raths are protected by law, according to figures released this week at the Northern Ireland Assembly.

There are a total of 108 raths, the best known and most visible remains of the Iron Age, dotted about the Cookstown District countryside.

However, only 16 of the sites are protected by scheduling under the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects Order, with a further one in the care of the state.

The vast majority of the ancient raths are on private land.

Fermanagh district has the most recorded rath sites at 619, followed by Antrim, 236, and Banbridge 218.

However, the Department of the Environment said that the remainder of the raths are protected by planning and agricultural policies.

Under the Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) Scheme and the Countryside Management Scheme (CMS), farmers receive an annual payment for looking after an archaeological feature.

To qualify for the payment, farmers are not allowed to cultivate in any way the protected area, add drinking troughs for animals, store silage bales, or construct access roads or tracks.

Approval must be sought for the use of pesticides, which must only be used to control noxious weeds, and no fertilisers, manure, slurry, sewage, rubbish or lime can be applied to the site.

Farmers must also tend to any trees or scrub on the site, although the scrub can be controlled by light grazing.

Many sites have been lost to the plough in the past, or been damaged by farm machinery. These schemes are intended to protect remaining sites for the future.

It is believed that the hill forts in the Dungannon District continued to be occupied and were still playing an important role in everyday life by AD 43.

A piece of land was surrounded by a series of ditches which were dug up to 7m deep with the excavated earth piled up behind them to form a defensive bank, creating a fortified living area for both people and livestock.

Tullyhogue is the district’s most famous hill fort and is protected by the Department of the Environment. During the summer it is a popular tourist destination

In 1998, Don Carlos O’Neill, a Spanish descendant of Hugh O’Neill, started an annual event that takes place in August each year whereby he and his family commemorate the inauguration ceremony of the O’Neills