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The Royal Sites of Ireland: Cashel, Dún Ailinne, Hill of Uisneach, Rathcroghan Complex, and Tara Complex

Date of Submission: 08/04/2010
Criteria: (iii)(iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Ireland to the OECD and UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Counties Tipperary, Kildare, Westmeath, Roscommon, and Meath
Ref.: 5528
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

Coordinates

- Cashel: N52 31 17 W7 53 16

- Dún Ailinne: N53 7 3 W6 45 50

- Hill of Uisneach: N53 29 16 W7 31 43

- Rathcroghan Complex: N53 46 46 W8 15 18

- Tara Complex: N53 35 9 W6 33 42

 

The Royal sites grouped here were all sites of major royal inauguration, ceremony and assembly, representing each of the four Irish provinces: Ulster, Leinster, Munster and Connaught, as well as the region of Meath. Navan Fort* is portrayed as the royal site for the kings of Ulster; Dún Ailinne for the kings of Leinster; Cashel for the kings of Munster and Rathcroghan for the kings of Connaught. Tara was the seat of the kings of Meath and the seat of the Irish high kings. In addition the Hill of Uisneach is traditionally the epicenter (navel) of Ireland, where the five provinces met. The sites are strongly linked to myth and legend and are associated with the transformation of Ireland from paganism to Christianity and Saint Patrick.

*Navan Fort (Eamain Macha, County Armagh is located in Ulster within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland).

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The ensembles of monuments of the Royal Sites are universally unique through their well-preserved cultural continuity and large-scale Iron Age complexes. The Royal Sites were sacred sites and places of royal inauguration and bear exceptional testimony to Iron Age civilisation. Historically, their roots go back to the Neolithic period and they illustrate significant stages in human history through the large array of monuments ranging from Bronze Age tumuli to Iron Age ring forts and to early Christian architecture. All of the Royal Sites form part of larger archaeological landscapes characterised by a large concentration of ritual monuments. Situated on strategic and elevated locations, the Royal Sites are organically evolved relict cultural landscapes where the pre-Christian kingship in Ireland evolved and ended. The Royal sites are directly associated with Irish mythology and traditional beliefs and continue to represent spiritual and symbolic centers of Irish culture and identity, which have influenced approaches to life in many countries of the world.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity:

In terms of intangible aspects of the sites, there is a wealth of historical sources, medieval manuscripts (e.g. 'The Martyrology of Oengus', c. 830 AD; Book of Leinster, c. 1160 AD) and academic literature testifying to the mythological and legendary values of the royal sites and their role in Irish history and culture (e.g. Hicks, 2007; Bhreathnach, 2005; Rees & Rees, 1961.

The sites are largely intact and to have retained many of their original attributes. Overall the sites are well preserved and retain high visual landscape qualities and it would appear that the form design, materials and substance of the archaeological complexes and monuments are reasonably intact. The archaeological sites have been excavated to varying degrees. The sites are located in largely intact pastoral landscapes, which have contributed to the retention of a unique sense of place, spirit and feeling.

Integrity:

Based on preliminary observation the sites appear are largely intact and to have retained their original attributes. Overall the sites are well preserved and retain high visual landscape qualities. The archaeological sites have been excavated to varying degrees (e.g. Uisneach, excavated from 1925-30; the Rathcroghan complex, remains largely unexcavated with some ongoing works; the Tara complex, major excavations under the Discovery Programme and the National Roads Authority; Dún Ailinne, excavations from 1968-75). In the case of Cashel there have been recent restoration works on the buildings and the frescoes in Cormac's Chapel. Nevertheless, it would appear that the form, design, materials and substance of the archaeological complexes and monuments are reasonably intact. Ritual uses of the sites still occur on a small scale today, including celebrations of the Winter and Summer Solstices as well as Bealtaine and Samhain, and the tradition of agricultural use of the landscapes continues. The sites are located in largely pastoral landscapes and include hilltop locations with dramatic panoramic views, which contribute to a unique sense of character, spirit and feeling.

To varying extent the sites have been impacted by erosion, agricultural and quarrying activity considering their rural location. However, the range of monuments and the considerable quantity of surviving earthworks across the archaeological complexes incorporates all the elements necessary to express the outstanding universal value of the royal sites. Each of the individual sites occupies a relatively large area, which is of adequate size to ensure the complete representation of the features, and processes conveying their significance.

Comparison with other similar properties

In general, sites illustrating the early evolution of man during the Iron Age are under-represented on the World Heritage List. The World Heritage List contains a number of sites linked to early kingship and transformation from Paganism to Christianity in Northern Europe, including:

Jelling Mounds, Runic Stones and Church, Denmark (1994); Þingvellir National Park, Iceland (2004); Birka and Hovgården, Sweden (1993) and the Orkesta and Markim area, Sweden (Tentative List).

There are no similar such inscriptions in countries like Norway, Finland, Germany, UK, and France. Although there are ritual and assembly sites of European Iron Age elsewhere, e.g. in Germany, UK/Northern Ireland and France, none of these are inscribed on the World Heritage List.

Differences with Irish Royal Sites:

With regard to a comparative analysis of early indigenous belief systems in Europe, the Royal Sites are namely representative of the Iron Age, whereas other sites with a link to indigenous belief systems relate to different periods e.g. Stone Henge WHS, UK (Neolithic); Thracian Tomb WHS, Bulgaria (Hellenistic period); Sammallahdenmäki WHS, Finland (Bronze Age).