The passage tomb at the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara has been uncovered during excavations to assess damage to the earthworks.
A conservation plan has been commissioned for the State-owned lands on the Hill of Tara by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan.
The minister, in collaboration with the Office of Public Works (OPW) and the Heritage Council, has commissioned the Discovery Programme to undertake the plan which, he said, "will illustrate the unique cultural and historical significance of Tara and identify appropriate policies to ensure its preservation and presentation".
The area to be examined includes the immediate environs of the Hill which contribute to the experience and enjoyment of the monument.
While the conservation plan will also consider access and visitor amenity issues, Mr Deenihan stressed that Tara was "essentially an outdoor experience and that should not change".
The minister emphasised that the emerging conservation plan would "place a key emphasis on consultation with stakeholders, and the local community in particular". Ultimately, it is intended that the conservation plan for the Tara complex will act as an overarching framework for management and interpretation.
Navan area town and county councillors received a delegation from the Department of Heritage and the Heritage Council to brief them on the commissioning of the plan at their January meeting.
Ian Doyle of the Heritage Council, Brian Lacey of the Discovery Programme and Tom Condit of the Department's National Monuments Service, provided an initial information briefing about the planned preparation of the plan.
Mr Lacey said the structure of a conservation plan is quite specific. It is recognised internationally as an ideal formula for protecting heritage and managing change in important historic places.
Since 2005, when the Cunnane Strattan Reynolds Report on the conservation of the Hill was submitted, there have been much more developments, including the completion of the M3 and the excavations associated with the motorway building, numerous publications relating to Tara, as well as remote sensing surveys, Mr Lacey told the meeting.
In the summer of 2010, the Discovery Programme and its partners at NUI Galway doubled the amount of geophysical surveys on the hilltop, revealing in the process what is almost certainly the previously unknown whereabouts of the medieval manor of Tara.
While broadly welcoming the report, councillors expressed concerns about possible restrictions on the Hill, as well as 'Americanising' the monument.
However, in response to Cllr Shane Cassells' concerns that the 'rawness' of Tara which attracted people would be lost, Ian Doyle said there was no intention of creating the 'Disneyfication' of Tara, but the manage and help understand its character.
Cllr Joe Reilly said he hoped that the consultation process was not going to be similar to the recent one concerning Tara. "There is a sad history of consultation and failure to reach agreement 18 months ago," he said.
Cllr Jim Holloway said it was an "exciting" project but that he hoped the "mystique" of Tara would be maintained. Cllr Tommy Reilly and Cllr Jenny McHugh asked that visitor facilities and car parking be looked at, with Cllr Reilly criticising the fact that the OPW centre is closed for the greater part of the year.
Mr Doyle said the purpose of the plan was to look at four points - access, value, protection and enjoyment. The Department officials requested that a representative of the council be appointed to the steering committee to oversee the project, and councillors agreed to consider this.
Archaeological works to investigate the significant degradation of the covering of the Mound of the Hostages have been completed. These excavations have resulted in the removal of a portion of the earthen mound over the passage tomb. Design options for conservation works to the passage tomb and the restoration of the mound are now being considered and will begin as soon as possible.
The Mound of the Hostages, Duma na nGiall, is one of the most prominent monuments among the concentration of prehistoric sites on the Hill of Tara. The covering of the mound is showing signs of significant degradation which, according to Minister Deenihan, "has begun to increase as a result of the very inclement weather over the last few years".
He said that a non-invasive geophysical survey had already been completed which was followed by investigative archaeological excavations overseen by his Department and the Office of Public Works.
"The excavation results will feed into a detailed conservation and management plan for the mound," added the minister.
The Tara-Skryne Preservation Group (TSPG) has welcomed Minister Deenihan's announcement of a conservation plan. Carmel Diviney of the group, which was formed during the M3 motorway controversy, said it is a most welcome announcement to all concerned about the long-ranging state of disrepair on the Hill.
"A much sought-after comprehensive plan of management will be put in place on these State-owned lands which will ensure the preservation of one of Ireland's most important sacred, historical, mythological and cultural sites," she said.
Access to the Hill of Tara must remain open and free to all, just as it has always been, she added.