Conservation / WHS

Protecting Sligo's Neolithic heritage

In its diversity, number of sites, quality of preservation, coherence and landscape context(s) the Neolithic heritage of County Sligo has few counterparts in the world.

But the fabric of interwoven landscape and heritage is a fragile one, easily damaged. A number of key Sligo sites are under existential threat as a result of increasing footfall, vandalism and development.

The active structuring and implementation of a long-term conservation strategy for the Neolithic Heritage of Sligo is urgently required.

What can we do to help right now? When visiting megalithic sites, we can follow the recommendations at the bottom of this page. Also, if you observe perpetrators in the act of deliberately destroying these sites, you can give details to the authorities or to the National Monuments Service.

But the biggest impact, we believe, will be through the recognition of these sites as examples of UNESCO World Heritage.

UNESCO World Heritage Status

Attaining UNESCO World Heritage Site status will highlight the importance of these sites in world historical terms, and their protection will follow naturally through the awareness this will bring. Critically, the WHS consultation process will help us to create a dedicated management plan using UNESCO best practice; more funding and support for landowners; and an effective strategy for sustainable tourism.

"World Heritage Site status is wholly dependent on co-operation between supportive communities, landowners, and the local authority. At heart, achieving WHS status is a ground up process of engagement that takes place over several years. The process itself would promote greater engagement with local communities and stakeholders, discussion forums, schools visits, as well as engagement with other groups at other WHS sites nationally and internationally."


At this time, during the Covid-19 pandemic, we have an opportunity to reassess what we would like to see in the future. For the past two decades, year-on-year tourist numbers have been increasing in County Sligo, and we can see a greater number of visitors hiking to these cairns and monuments. The impact of increased unsupervised attendance at these sites has been severe and noticeable. Without concerted action many monuments may not survive for future generations.

Often individuals who damage these sites are doing something planned, at times involving considerable work, whether in the form of digging or perhaps scratching graffiti, or other forms of vandalism. Other visitors collect unusual stones or unearth quartz, perhaps not realising that it is illegal to dig or excavate at these sites.

Additionally, unintentional damage can occur.

Visitors to Queen Maedbh’s cairn on Knocknarea or to Carrowkeel over the last few years will have noticed a number of ‘walking scars’ across the side of the cairns. This is the result of ever-increasing footfall. We need to treat these sites as we would the graves of our own relatives and ancestors - places that we would never walk over.

Every action that is taken at these ancient monuments, or the landscape in which they are preserved, needs to take the above factors into account. For instance, another form of damage can be caused by administrative/development decisions which can have unintended consequences.

This highlights the importance of an overall management plan which will deal with all these sites as a collective, rather than piecemeal (often ineffective or destructive) actions being taken without an overall vision.

When visiting megalithic sites

To protect these sites, ensure good relations with landowners, and have a positive experience when visiting Sligo Neolithic Landscapes ask you to:

  • Always respect landowners wishes

  • Enjoy walking around cairns, but never on them

  • Try to leave everything just as you found it

  • Park sensibly, do not hinder access

  • Wear suitable clothing and footwear

  • Treat other visitors with respect

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