Archaeologist raises fears over new port site

Story by Tom Kelly

Saturday, 29th March, 2008 9:00am

DROGHEDA Port Company`s plans for a new deep water port at Bremore near Balbriggan have run into controversy after a leading Meath archaeologist said that the chosen site was of huge archaeological and historical significance and could have been the place where St Patrick first landed in Ireland.

The company plans to build the major new port at a cost of €300 million. However, Meath archaeologist Professor George Eogan, known for his work on the Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth archaeological sites, says that the area contains a unified prehistoric cemetery of mounds that extends for over a mile, from Gormanston, north of the Delvin river, to Bremore, which is to the south of the river. The river marks the boundary between Meath and Fingal.

He said that Bremore had the appearance of being a landing place for early people coming to Ireland and that passage tombs were the likely burial places for people coming from the Iberian peninsula.

The site at Bremore had been surveyed by Professor Etienne Rynne from NUI Galway in 1960 but has not yet been excavated.

Professor Eogan told the Irish Times: "This does not detract from the importance of Bremore and Gormanston. There`s enough evidence to say that it`s contemporary with the Boyne Valley. I would be concerned about the destruction of irreplaceable monuments."

The Neolithic cemetery of passage tombs at Bremore has been the subject of a preservation order for over 30 years and any development of the site would need to appropriately protect the monuments. It is thought that the tombs are of similar antiquity to the oldest monuments in the Boyne Valley, perhaps dating back to 3,000BC.

Professor Eogan said that in addition to the archaeological significance of Bremore, there was also evidence that it was around the mouth of the Delvin that St Patrick landed in Ireland for the first time, making it a historically important site. He pointed out that there were several alternative locations along the east coast for a port of the kind proposed by the company.

Drogheda Port Company has invested significant resources to its plan for the port, in conjunction with Treasury Holdings and the major Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa to develop a modern deepwater port, with an initial capacity of 10 million tonnes of freight per annum.

In January this year, the Government announced that it wanted to speed up the process of planning for the port and transferred compulsory purchase powers for the acquisition of lands by the Drogheda Port Company to An Bord Pleanala. The port company has a target of a year from now in submitting a full planning application and it hoped to open the new port by 2012.

The Drogheda company has set out the ambitious expansion plan because it says that it has run out of spare capacity. It says that a full assessment of the area would be carried out before any application for planning permission was lodged.