An ancient Irish dolmen has been wrapped in tin foil and silver plastic - so that it now looks more like a Flash Gordon spaceship than a prehistoric monument. Labby Rock, near Castlebaldwin, Co Sligo, and overlooking Lough Arrow, looked more like a 'baked potato' according to one expert who visited it recently.
The famous 70-tonne dolmen was said to have been used as a bed by Diarmaid and Grainne when fleeing Fionn MacCumhaill. But Mary Quinlan, who has been visiting ancient monuments for 20 years, had never seen anything like it. "I was upset to see this 5,000-year-old monument looking a bit ridiculous. On closer inspection I was more concerned because I noticed a lot of the grass and heather from the top of the monument had been cut. The orthostats looked for all the world like baked potatoes," said the antropologist. But recent visitors to the monument were even more shocked to discover the landowner has the right to do this, whereas the public have no right under Irish law to view this piece of ancient Irish heritage - if the landowner forbids it.

Labby Rock is one of the largest dolmens in Ireland, with a roofstone weighing around 70 tonnes. However, recent visitors to the dolmen got a rude awakening when a figure in a baseball cap came down the meadow, filming with a video camera. He angrily announced - in an American accent - that he was both the landowner and the creator of this 'installation art'. Inquiries have confirmed that although monuments are protected under the 2004 Monuments Act, the law has no problem in principle with what was done to this monument. A spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government said: "The Labby Rock is a recorded monument. Any landowner who intends to carry out work on or around a recorded monument is obliged to give us two months' notice, so we can go out and assess the situation. Apparently this didn't happen and we have received a complaint from a member of the public, so one of our archaeologists has gone out to have a look. It's unlikely, though, that there's any damage."

The public don't have any legal rights to see monuments that lie on private ground, according to Sligo Heritage Officer Siobhan Ryan: "People don't have the right to roam and it is with the goodwill and permission of the landowners that we access those sites." However, a team of experts appointed by Rural Affairs Minister Eamon O Cuiv has just brought out a report suggesting legislation be brought in to open access rights to the countryside. The report has already caused a furore. Meanwhile, Minister for the Environment John Gormley has said controversies like the Tara motorway development raise the issue of whether current measures to protect Irish archaeological and natural landscape are adequate.

Source: (15 July 2007)