Environment Minister John Gormley has endorsed the final report of the working group on the future preservation and archaeological investigation of the Viking Age national monument at Woodstown, outside Waterford City.
The report recommendations deal with both the immediate security of the site and its ongoing protection and also with its ongoing research potential. “The latter”, said the Minister, “is indicative of the role I see Irish archaeology playing in terms of the dissemination of knowledge to as wide an audience as possible both within specialist research and academic circles but also, and just as importantly, in the general public domain.
“I initiated the Department’s review of archaeological policy and practice late last year on just such a basis and the Woodstown report reinforces the importance of this principle to my mind. The report is another important stepping stone in the advancement of the south eastern region in built heritage terms and one on which I am confident will successfully be taken forward again on a co-operative basis”. He is making the report publicly available on the Department’s new dedicated archaeological website www.archaeology.ie”.
The working group was established by the then Minister for the Environment in 2005 following discovery of the Woodstown site during routine archaeological investigations ahead of the construction of the N25 Waterford City Bypass in 2003. The group includes the Director of the National Museum, Dr. Pat Wallace, as well as representatives from Waterford City and County Councils, the Heritage Council, the National Roads Authority and the Department’s Chief Archaeologist, Brian Duffy.
An interim report by the working group was previously approved by the Minister in June 2006. That report recommended the carrying out of a supplementary research project to more firmly establish the nature, extent and significance of the Woodstown site. The final report incorporates this supplementary project and confirms that the site dates from the Viking Period of the ninth to tenth centuries and was a major trading and manufacturing centre.
There are no upstanding remains at the national monument site which borders the Suir at Woodstown and which is enclosed by two contiguous D shaped ditch and bank defences. Research to date concludes that the site was occupied by a distinctive Scandinavian community. This settlement existed for a considerable amount of time and involved at least several phases of activity, settlement or resettlement. The Woodstown settlement, though armed and with some military aspects, appears to have been a significant centre for manufacturing and trade. Significant quantities of lead weights, silver and rotary sharpening stones as well as the discovery of one of the best furnished Viking graves ever found in Ireland, containing a sword and silver, mark the site as being a major trading and manufacturing centre of Scandinavian origin.
The Minister agreed with the working group’s recommendation that the site, presently in the private ownership of Mr. Gerard Halley, should be placed on the statutory Record of Historic Monuments, affording it protection under the National Monuments Acts. Any works proposed at the site would thus require two months prior written notice being made to the Minister. Discussions will be held with the site’s owner to ensure its ongoing protection but as the site is not considered to be under imminent threat the making of a preservation order is not considered necessary at this time by the Minister.
Other site protection and security recommendations endorsed by Minister Gormley in the shorter term include discussions with the landowner with a view to agreeing an appropriate conservation plan, the initiation of a survey by the Office of Public Works on the adequacy of site fencing, continued site inspection and the erection of appropriate public signage at the site, now considered to be a national monument.
In terms of the site’s research and archaeological investigation in the medium to longer term the report recommends the development of a multi-disciplinary research agenda for the site, the holding of an international conference in Waterford to publish the results of the research to date on Woodstown, the production of a public information booklet and the pursuance of educational aspects of the site.
Though there are no archaeological remains visible its full excavation is not recommended by the working group and as such the site is being preserved in situ. Moreover, the working group does not recommend the development of any intrusive heritage tourism related measures such as the building of a visitor centre in the short to medium term, as further aspects of the site may be unlocked by subsequent targeted research initiatives. However, there may be scope at some stage in the future for the public to view research archaeologists working on-site, possibly from the tourist railway running alongside the site.
Minister Gormley said: “I concur with the working group that the Woodstown site is of major national and international significance. It is considered by the experts to be one of the most productive sites of early medieval times ever discovered in Ireland and may well shed light on the earliest Irish urbanisation and on the origins of our towns. I hope this site will over time open further the window of knowledge onto Viking Age Ireland”.