Suzanne Gunn, Michael MacDonagh, National Monuments Service and Heritage Minister Malcolm Noonan.

Minister pledges to preserve ‘oldest built wall in Cavan’

The preservation of “the oldest built wall in Cavan” was high on the agenda as Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Malcolm Noonan, took a whistle stop tour of some of the unique historic sites of Cavan.

Minister Noonan visited the Drumlane Abbey and Round Tower complex as part of a wider tour of heritage sites across Cavan on Friday. The Green Party Minister heard from members of the Drumlane History and Heritage Group about concerns for the existing features and ambitions to develop the full potential of the historic Abbey in Milltown.

The Ministerial delegation included Michael MacDonagh, the chief archaeologist in the National Monuments Service of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The Minister was first taken to what the Heritage Group believe is the Southern Wall of the original monastery of Saint Columba.

Johann Farrelly, an author and historian from Mullagh, gave details of the research undertaken by the group. He said the wall dates from before the Round Tower, which was built around 550AD. Mr Farrelly suggested it was the oldest wall in the county, and emphasised the importance of initiating protective works to guarantee its preservation.

The gathering was told Drumlane round tower is just one of the impressive historic features of the monastic site in Milltown. The tower and church are already a significant tourist attraction, however chairman of the Drumlane group, Micheál McCabe, spoke of the ambition to conduct extensive research on the area and further develop the tourism potential of the site. Mr McCabe said many of the plans will only progress if there are funding streams available.

The group have employed the latest archaeological techniques to unearth the true historic significance of Drumlane. The local heritage group are exploring the wider site, opening the possibility that it held a greater significance than previously thought. Among the features the group wish to examine is a reputed underground tunnel from the Round Tower.

Group member, Suzanne Gunn, who recently gave a talk on the history of Drumlane, and member Chris Kirk, also educated the minister on the rich 1,500 year history of the complex.

Mr MacDonagh, the chief archaeologist, said the significance of Drumlane complex has been acknowledged in its recognition as a national monument. He said that although the Drumlane Abbey and Round Tower were in the ownership of the State, the monastery wall was in the guardianship of the State. He said this does impose certain responsibilities on the State.

Mr MacDonagh said the State will find funding to support works to preserve the monastery wall, and suggested that research funding was another avenue the group could explore. Minister Noonan said he would make every effort to help with the preservation and development of the site.

The Minister commended the work undertaken by Anne Marie Ward, the Heritage Officer with Cavan County Council and the efforts she has made for heritage projects in the county. He said Ms Ward utilised the most valuable resource, a vibrant and enthusiastic community group invested in the heritage areas, to help projects develop.

Deputy Niamh Smyth said Drumlane Abbey and Round Tower is a recognised draw in the wider Cavan Geopark and went on to say this is in no short measure because of the dedicated volunteers in the Drumlane History and Heritage Group. Deputy Smyth said she would continue to work for the group, along with Cllr Brendan Fay, to ensure there was support for the group's ambitious plans.