‘Fake date stone not enough to undo cultural damage’

A REPLACEMENT date stone marking the presence of a building dating back to the era of the Ulster Plantation, which was razed by developers, is not enough to undo years of ‘cultural vandalism’ to Waringstown.

That is according to Unionist MLA, Sam Gardiner, who is blaming the Environment and Heritage Service for what he describes as the “greatest act of archaeological, historical and cultural vandalism of the century”.

Mr Gardiner has called for reparations to be made to the village by the Department of the Environment after the government issued an apology for the series of planning errors which led to a housing development being built on an early Christian rath (homestead) located in the centre of the village at the Grange.

Mr Gardiner said: “Apologies which are now forthcoming from government are simply not enough. This appalling series of blunders, this serial incompetence which lasted for over a decade, this denial of justice to the community of Waringstown, and this blatant removal of its important historical past has deprived the village of an important part of its past, and its cultural identity.”

He added: “When I hear how people are enthusing about recent archaeological finds in Fermanagh in the past fortnight and I think about what was done to Waringstown, I weep. What an amazing difference in attitude this betrays.

“The Drumclay finds in Fermanagh date from 900 AD but the Rath in Waringstown which was permitted to be wantonly destroyed by the Department of the Environment leadership was at least 300 years older than that. What is more, to add insult to injury a date stone dating from 1698 has been removed from Waringstown. This was part of a building from the plantation era also destroyed by developers. On top of all this key files have gone missing. The whole business stinks.

“I am demanding that there is a serious move towards making reparations for the village of Waringstown. Simply offering to give the village a fake date stone with the date 1698 on it is not only not enough. It is an insult. What I am demanding is real reparations.”

“I want to see a major archaeological survey of the Waringstown area carried out by the Department of the Environment’s Environment and Heritage Service archaeologists. There are several archaeological sites, as yet unexcavated, in the village area. A 19th century Ordinance Survey map shows these sites clearly. Clearly in the early Christian period Waringstown was a major area of settlement.

“I also want to see a major interpretative centre and community centre built by way of reparation by the Department of the Environment in the village. The village, by losing this important slice of its heritage, has lost the potential of earnings from tourist related ventures and this is down directly to negligence by the Department of the Environment. Sites are available for such a centre.”

Mr Gardiner said: “Apologies are no longer enough. I am demanding substantive action, and action sooner rather than later because this has dragged on for more than a decade. Through all of that period I want to put on record my admiration for the work of Harris Jones whose persistence and dedication has been such a help to me in exposing this scandal.

“Waringstown has been robbed and the people put there to police such action have been negligent, so therefore, as with all cases of negligence, they must pay. Truthfully they will never be able to pay enough but an archaeological survey and an interpretative centre and community hall would be a more realistic response than offering to replace a date stone.”