One of the finest examples of “Saints and Scholars” Ireland – the Clonmacnoise ruins just outside Ballinahown – could soon be viewed in the same light as Stonehenge, Macchu Pichu or the Pyramids of Giza, it was revealed in a presentation to Westmeath County Council this week (May 25 ).
An application is underway to have the world-famous monastery classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site by the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government (DOEHLG ) and it is hoped this will happen by 2011.
However, ignoring the fact that Westmeath accounts for less than five per cent of the site and possibly paying more attention to June 5, four councillors voiced concerns about the planned “buffer zone” and how it might impinge on an Irishman's divine right to fill a field with concrete, regardless of where it might be.
Cllrs Tom Allen (FF ), Boxer Moran (FF ), John Dolan (FG ) and Dan McCarthy (Lab ) made these complaints after seeing the size of the site's buffer zone, which covers most of the Callows from Shannonbridge to Golden Island.
“There's serious worry locally from people wanting to build on their own land. You'll have to bring people along with the plan,” said Cllr Dolan.
Boxer did at least bring up the possibility of extra development on the older highway.
“What about developing the jetty? We forgot about the boats,” he said.
However, Cllr Mark Cooney said he believed that the checks in place at the moment would suffice and “there would be no additional restrictions”.
The Department has put together a plan of conservancy and development for the historic site at the crossroads of ancient Ireland, where the Eiscir Riada crosses the Shannon, and that will be available for public perusal at the County Council offices of Westmeath, Roscommon and Offaly until September this year.
Tourist management will play a large part in this as presently 170,000 visitors annually come to a site designed only to receive 70,000 guests.
County Manager, Danny McLoughlin told the meeting that he had not been consulted “at all” on the plan and that only one senior planner from Westmeath to date had attending any briefing at all on the subject since its inception.
“All three councils ought to manage a co-ordinated campaign,” he said.
The application was initially submitted in September last year and will go on public view between now and September. UNESCO officials are due to visit the seat of St Ciarain in the autumn of 2010 and “hopefully it will be added in 2011,” said Ruth Minogue for the DOEHLG.
At the moment there are only three other such Heritage sites on the island – Giant's Causeway, Bru na Boinne and Skellig Mhicheal.
UNESCO is the United Nations' Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
All further details can be seen at the three council offices or on clonmacnoisewhsbid.org