Ireland is awash with historical structures and monuments that date back thousands of years. Many are barely recognisable and the passage of time has slowly ebbed away at their once prominent features. However, many historical structures are very recognisable to this day and without interference should be prominent in years to come.

We as farmers and landowners have to remember that we are merely custodians of the land. It is our responsibility to farm in such a way to protect our built heritage for generations to come.

In the past, many important landmarks and structures were cleared away to make room for land reclamation. A lot of this work was carried out due to a lack of appreciation and education for the past. The majority of these ancient structures do not impede our day-to-day farm work and we can work around them.

An old lime kiln in Co Roscommon.

According to the Heritage Council, there are 120,000 known archaeological monuments in Ireland and many of these are found in the countryside. The monuments are protected under the National Monuments Acts where it is stated that it is against the law to demolish, disfigure or interfere with historical monuments.


If such a historical structure or monument is situated on your farm, it would be a good idea to research its background. An uninformed person may look at an ancient ringfort and wonder why a corner of a good field has been left so rough and uneven.

With some tutoring, however, they might realise the significance of the site. It could have been a farmstead from the Bronze Age where the early farmers in the area lived, worked and protected their livestock, for example. With awareness and knowledge of a historical monument’s original function, we are far less likely to do it any harm. This knowledge should not be kept secret and should be shared with relatives and neighbours so that future generations will also be mindful.

The Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional and Gaeltacht Affairs website provides a lot of information on how to protect monuments in the community. Here is a link to an online map showing the locations of some historic features and information about the structures:

Remember, not all monuments have been discovered yet. Farmers are usually the ones to make discoveries by observing subtle differences in the landscape such as earthworks or scatters of finds (pottery, flint, human and animal bone) brought to the surface by ploughing or differences in crop growth caused by buried archaeological features.

Anthony Murphy, a subeditor with the Irish Farmers Journal, hit the headlines just last week when he jointly discovered a never-seen-before henge monument in the Boyne Valley, not far from Newgrange. The footprint of the henge was discovered in a tillage field with the use of a drone. It was only apparent because of the drought-like conditions.

Protecting heritage

There are a number of steps farmers can take to protect monuments on their farms. The best way could be to leave the monuments alone to some extent.

Animals grazing lightly usually keep the monument in check once they do not cause any damage to it. Usually, it is best not to fence off a monument because it can become overgrown, unless you are prepared to keep it in check yourself.


Some farmers in GLAS have chosen the protection and maintenance of archaeological monuments action. This requires certain actions for monuments depending on whether they are located in pasture or tillage parcels.

The specifications for the GLAS action are available on the Departments website. In tillage parcels, farmers must establish a 10m-wide grass margin around at least one monument by sowing a grass seed mix in the plots. Cultivations cannot be carried out inside this margin once established.

Tips for managing ancient monuments in grassland

  • Correct stocking levels should be maintained as overgrazing or poaching can damage ancient monuments.
  • Site troughs, ring feeders and fences away from the monument.
  • Historic buildings should not be used for sheltering livestock.
  • Plan farm roadways away from or around monuments rather than across them.
  • Control the growth of gorse (furze or whins), scrub and woody plants on the monument. These should be cut at the base and the stumps treated to prevent regrowth. This work is allowed from 1 September to 28 February.
  • Prune or pollard larger trees as this reduces shade and wind throw.
  • Never up root trees on a monument as this may cause further damage to archaeological layers. Keep tractors and diggers away from monuments.
  • The killing or removal of well-established ivy or trees, whose root systems have invaded the fabric of masonry structure, should not happen.
  • Any fallen masonry discovered during maintenance work should be left untouched.
  • Cleared stones or farm waste should not be dumped on an ancient monument.
  • Tillage fields

    In tillage fields, the Heritage Council advises that special care and attention must be taken to lessen the chance of damage to sites of interest.

  • Upstanding monuments should be left as islands of uncultivated ground within cultivated fields and should be protected by an unploughed margin of at least 7m around the edge of the monument. Control the growth of gorse, scrub or woody plants on the monument.
  • Minimise plough depths where there are known levelled sites or cropmark sites in cultivated land.
  • Fields with levelled monuments or cropmark sites should be excluded from tillage and put into pasture, if possible.
  • If trees are being planted keep well away from ancient monuments.