Sunday, November 30, 2014

SS Nomadic, Belfast

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SS Nomadic today in the Hamilton Graving Dock
Belfast has a long history as a centre of marine commerce and construction. Of all the thousands of boats and ships built here, one name stands out above the others: Titanic. Pretty much everyone knows the story of how it was built in Belfast by Harland and Wolff – along with sister ships Olympic and Britannic – and, after encountering an iceberg, went to a watery grave somewhere in the North Atlantic, around 450 miles east of New York. You’ve seen the movie, listened to endless renditions of that song, and had the opportunity to buy all sorts of Titanic-related merchandise of varying levels of tastelessness. Belfast, of course, has been as good as any in promoting and marketing the city’s links to the ill-fated luxury liner. We now have the fantastic (and incredibly popular) Titanic Belfast experience [Website | Facebook | Review | Video] and the wonderful Titanic exhibit at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum [Website | Facebook | Video]. I’ve been to both on several occasions, and love them dearly … but they’re not without drawbacks. The Belfast Titanic centre is lacking in original artefacts, while those at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum are all behind glass. I never thought that either of these were drawbacks … until I visited an original Titanic artefact you can not only touch, but stand on, sit in, and walk through!

Chapples Minor await the start of our tour
The SS Nomadic was built by Harland and Wolff for the White Star Line. She was to be based in Cherbourg and used as a tender to bring luggage and passengers out to Titanic and Olympic, neither of which could berth in the shallower waters of the port. Her keel was laid down on December 22nd 1910 and she was launched (to relatively little fanfare, I would imagine) on April 25th 1911. The vessel could carry up to 1000 passengers and was divided into first and second class areas – but never the twain shall meet! A small area at the aft end of the lower deck was used for the overspill of passengers from her sister ship, SS Traffic. Nomadic was designed to be part of a seamless, luxurious experience (for those in first class, at any rate) and the ship was kitted out to the same high standards as were found on-board the liners she served. She arrived for duty in Cherbourg in June 1911 and on April 10th she transported 274 passengers out to Titanic, anchored in deeper waters. Among the great and the good she transported that day were Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, his wife Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon, millionairess Margaret ‘the Unsinkable Molly’ Brown, and industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim.

SS Nomadic and the Titanic centre
So there you have it! One day in the sun and poor old SS Nomadic was no more! Well, you could be forgiven for expecting that, as that’s where the Belfast and Titanic connections end. However, that’s not where Nomadic’s adventures end and that’s not where the tour ends, either! War broke out in 1914, and from then until 1919 she was employed as a minesweeper and patrol ship. She also worked as a troop ship, ferrying American soldiers at the port of Brest. She eventually went back to tendering duties before being sold off by the merged White Star and Cunard Lines (getting renamed ‘Ingenieur Minard’ in the process). During World War II she was back in service, taking part in the evacuation of Cherbourg and operated as, among other things, a troop carrier and minelayer out of Portsmouth. Post-war, it was back to tendering from Cherbourg for such liners as the RMS Queen Mary and the RMS Queen Elizabeth. She lay idle for some time after being decommissioned in 1968, but was eventually bought and converted into a floating restaurant, being moved to the Seine in Paris in 1974. When the restaurant failed, the Nomadic was seized by the French authorities in 2002, who removed large parts of her remaining superstructure. Nomadic eventually ended up in Le Havre and, after the restaurateur’s death in 2005, they sought either a buyer for the vessel or, failing that, to sell her for scrap. Although there was huge interest from individual Titanic and Industrial Heritage groups, along with wide public support, the requisite €250,000 could not be raised, and in early 2006 the Northern Ireland government stepped in with the necessary cash. Soon after, Nomadic returned home to Belfast and the hard work began. The NI Department for Social Development set up the Nomadic Charitable Trust to oversee the conservation and restoration. In this they are supported by The Nomadic Preservation Society who raise funds, conduct research, and publicise the ship as a tourist attraction (long may they thrive!). Along the way several million pounds have been raised and spent bringing the ship back to close to its original glory. Some of the most obvious and historically significant work included the £2m contract awarded to Harland and Wolff in 2011 to restore, repair, and rebuild (where necessary) Nomadic’s steelwork, along with repainting in her original White Star Line livery. Comparing the photographs of the hull that arrived in Belfast in 2006 – significant, but sad – with the accessible, refurbished, and vibrant vessel we have today only underlines the effort and dedication poured into Nomadic by all concerned.

Stern section
So … if you head round to the Hamilton Graving Dock (where, incidentally, Nomadic is believed to have been originally fitted out) what will you get to see? Initial entry is by guided tour only and tickets (very reasonably priced, too) are available from the refurbished pumping house. Once on-board you’ll be taken around the entire ship – stem to stern and first class to third and the crew’s quarters too – by a truly knowledgeable guide. When we visited it was as part of a pretty diverse group – I was there with the Chapples Minor (ages 5 & 7), there were a couple of Japanese tourists keen to take in the sights, and a pair of very well informed maritime engineering enthusiasts. And still our guide managed to make each part of her tour interesting and engaging for all age and interest levels. Once the tour is complete, you are free to wander back across the ship at your lesiure and revisit places at your own pace. And you will want to! While the tour itself is excellent, the ship is kitted out with a nice balance of text-and-photos display boards and the increasingly ubiquitous interactive touch screens. The displays also use a small number of projected holographic-style encounters with Nomadic’s crew and Captain (I’m sure there’s a technical term for the technology, but it eludes me), along with simpler dressed mannequins, sets, and specially recorded ‘noises off’ to help bring the ship to life. All of these elements are skilfully combined to produce a really engaging experience. I would, however, offer one word of warning to the prospective visitor – do not imagine that this is a quick trip, twenty-minutes-and-you’re-done affair! To the best of my recollection, the tour lasted for at least an hour and a half (admittedly, this was partly fuelled by the engineering enthusiasts asking technical questions about engine power etc. and the Chapples Minor asking if they could play with the screens and wooden toys). Even still, we spent another hour retracing our steps to take more photographs (me) and play with the various toys etc. (them … and me too!). However, no amount of persuading and cajoling would get them to try on the dress-up sailor uniforms! If you’ve got the time after all that exertion, or simply need the opportunity to recuperate, you can purchase teas and coffees in the first class lounge and imagine times long past in this beautiful, historic ship.
The rather grand 1st Class toilets
The more utilitarian 2nd Class toilets
I do, however, have one minor criticism of the display. As this may relate more to my own lack of knowledge of early 20th century French seafaring, I am very much open to correction on this point. It’s the crew’s quarters in the bow of the ship. I’m willing to ignore the iron-framed bunk bed that doesn’t appear to be particularly secured to anything. I’m even willing to turn a blind eye to the ‘typical’ French items of a copy of Le Monde (even if it wasn’t first published until 1944) and the accordion lying on the mattresses. What got to me was the two plates set for dinner (with accompanying brass candlesticks) … one appeared to only be having French bread and the other had a plate consisting solely of French onions. Balanced precariously on a bench was a beautiful basket with bottles of interesting looking wine, wrapped up in twisted newsprint. The whole looked like something out of rustic French eatery than what I would imagine was a more industrial and disciplined environment on-board ship.

Internal staircase in 1st Class
Even taking my single slight reservation into account my message to you in simple: if you’re coming to Belfast this is a must-see attraction. I loved it, my kids loved it, and we’d all happily go back again. It is the last surviving White Star Line ship and among the jewels of our European maritime heritage. Where else are you going to find anything even remotely similar? If you have an interest in Titanic, engineering, seafaring, social history, or simply want a good day out, this is a place not to be missed. It’s educational, it’s brilliantly entertaining, it’s heritage you can touch, feel, and be part of – you’ll love it!

Nomadic in her heyday in Cherbourg © P. Delaunoy 
used with permission of NPS
Original linoleum flooring from 1st Class 
1st Class lounge with touch screens and information panels

1st Class lounge
2nd Class lounge
2nd Class lounge
A meeting with the captain
Reproduction chairs & linoleum go well with a partly
original table and benches
Panoramic overview of an excellent play & learn section
Chapple Minor getting excited by the fun on offer
Learning through play at its best!
I particularly enjoyed the 'build your own SS Nomadic' & would loved to
have been able to buy one in the gift shop (hint hint)
The set of ‘Allo ‘Allo Crew’s quarters
The crew have just stepped out, but they have left their accordion, Le Monde, and
sundry things with 'French' in the title behind them
Forward storage space. There is a cunningly disguised loudspeaker somewhere in here. I was poking about the rather lovely oil lamps on the shelf when the chamber was filled with a cacophony of clanking chains and sundry mechanical sounds. I thought I'd broken Nomadic!
Up on deck to take the air.
The gate visible on the right marks where the 1st and 2nd Class passengers were divided
View astern. One ship. French, British, Irish connections. World heritage.
The end of the tour: exit via the gift shop!
As always, I hope the photos give a feel for Nomadic and encourage visitors from near and far to come see this amazing survivor for themselves!

Kings of the World! Chapples Minor survey the SS Nomadic

Resources:
Nomadic Belfast (tickets, events etc.) | Facebook
The SS Nomadic Wikipedia page (the source of much of the technical data used in this post)
National Register of Historic Vessels (well worth a look, even just for the photos of Nomadic during her refurbishment)


SS Nomadic, Belfast | 3D images


For those who enjoy my continuing quest to produce 3D (anaglyph) images of these sites, I present a selection of my efforts on the SS Nomadic and various buildings and structures in the locality. Information on glasses and other 3D images in this blog may be found here. Click for larger images.


















Friday, November 28, 2014

The Irish Royal Sites and World Heritage status: A Roman perspective

I am delighted to introduce the third submission for the The 2014 Bob Chapple Archaeological Essay Prize in association with Wordwell Books. At its heart, Alexandra Guglielmi's paper 'The Irish Royal Sites and World Heritage status: A Roman perspective' is a truly interesting investigation into the relationships between not just between ancient Ireland and the Roman world, but how modern Ireland still deals with a more recent colonial past and how these concerns still influence academic discourse. I commend it to your attention!

Robert M Chapple
*           *           *

The Irish Royal Sites and World Heritage status: A Roman perspective

Alexandra Guglielmi

“Nobody doubts that there were strong Roman influences in Ireland in the early centuries of the Christian era. The only point for debate is how these influences should be explained”.  
Barry Raftery 1996, 18


In 2010, Ireland presented a new Tentative List of sites to be nominated for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Among these are the “Royal sites” of the late prehistoric and early historical period: Cashel, Dún Ailinne, Rathcroghan, Tara and Uisneach. In Northern Ireland, Emain Macha had been nominated for the United Kingdom’s Tentative List but was rejected in 2011. These sites have a long (pre)history, spanning several centuries from the Neolithic to the Middle Ages, and including a period of contacts with the Roman world, as is evidenced by some of the material they yielded. However, this latter aspect of the sites is ignored in the Tentative List documents. Why is this and what could the mention of their links and interactions with the Roman world bring to their nomination? 

The present essay examines this issue by firstly, reviewing the Roman material currently known for the Royal sites in Ireland – both the Republic and Northern Ireland. It then critically considers the reasons behind the current choices in the presentation of the Royal sites on the Tentative List for World Heritage status and how this reflects the complex history of Irish archaeology and its relation to Britain and the Roman world. Finally, it assesses the ways in which “Roman-ness” is perceived in World Heritage and its potential appeal in the context of the nomination of the Royal sites.

Figure 1 Location of the Royal sites
The links with Rome and her Empire 
The “Royal sites” are a group of prehistoric sites that later became linked with early mediaeval kingship and inauguration rites and are recorded as such in the historical sources (Newman 1998, 127). Dún Ailinne, also known as Knockaulin, was associated with the province of Leinster, Cashel (Irish: Caisel) with that of Munster, Rathcroghan (Irish: Cruachan) with Connacht, Emain Macha (also known as Navan Fort) with Ulster and finally Tara (Irish: Temair) with Meath. Additionally, Uisneach in Co. Westmeath is recorded as the umbilical centre of Ireland, the meeting place of the five provinces and is associated with religious gatherings (Fig. 1).  Despite the fact that most of the early sources mentioning the sites had been written centuries after their last use and a lot of them mixed fantasy with reality, the archaeological evidence leaves little doubt that they were important centres of power in the Iron Age and, as is recorded in the sources, were very probably places of assembly (Raftery 1994, 64ff). These Royal sites are characterised by a common architecture, which involves a large hilltop enclosure defined by an earthen rampart with an internal ditch –something which excludes the possibility of a defensive role (ibid. 65). The very concept of the sacred enclosure –present at all the Royal sites- might itself be derived from a wider pan-European phenomenon, illustrated in the Viereckschanzen of Germany, the “Belgic” sanctuaries of northern France, and the Classical sanctuaries themselves (Dowling 2006; 2011). Although he does not postulates any direct influence from the Mediterranean, Dowling stresses the parallels between the various enclosures and the concept of a sacred boundary, as present in the Roman city foundation rites, and still visible in the early mediaeval Irish monastic sites, with multiple enclosures enhancing the sanctity of the inner precinct (Dowling 2006,  15). At Tara and Rathcroghan, the monumental complex itself includes a number of Neolithic barrows or burial mounds, like the Mound of the Hostages at Tara, which is contained within the perimeter of the Iron Age enclosure of Ráith na Ríg. They all have successive phases of occupation, stretching across several millennia, and are part of a wider ritual landscape (for a detailed study of the Tara landscape, see Bhreathnach 2005; for Emain Macha see Lynn 2003, 65ff; for Dún Ailinne see Johnston and Wailes 2007, 183ff; for Rathcroghan see Waddell et al. 2009). 

Of the six Royal Sites of Ireland, five have yielded concrete evidence of contacts with the Roman world, namely Dún Ailinne, Cashel, Emain Macha, Tara and Uisneach. The excavations at Dún Ailinne, Co. Kildare, have brought to light two brooches with parallels in Roman Britain during the first century AD (Fig.2; Johnston and Wailes 2007, 103-104). One of them is possibly of the Nauheim type (E.79.743 below), examples of which have been found elsewhere in Ireland, as for instance at Loughey, Co. Down (Jope and Wilson 1957). The other, is of the so-called “dolphin type”, which will be discussed in more length below. As stated by the excavators, the presence of these brooches at Dún Ailinne does not necessarily imply a Roman wearer but it suggests at the very least trading contacts with the Empire, be they direct or indirect (Johnston and Wailes 2007, 103-104). Nauheim brooches are usually associated with women on the Continent (ibid. 104) and while we cannot be sure that this was the case in Ireland too, this would not be the only instance of a “female” Roman connection in the country. At Stoneyford, Co. Kilkenny, for instance, a rather unique Roman-type cremation burial was found which has been interpreted as belonging to a woman (Bourke 1989).

Figure 2 - "Nauheim" and "Dolphin" type brooches from Dún Ailinne
© Johnston & Wailes 2007
On the Rock of Cashel, Co. Tipperary, another Roman brooch was unearthed (Fig. 3). It was found between Cormac’s Chapel and the Cathedral and is of the so-called “dolphin type”, datable to the first century AD (Cahill 1982). It is one of a number of “dolphin” brooches found in Ireland: other instances include three associated with burials on Lambay (Macalister 1929, 243-244; Rynne 1976, 240) and one from Dún Ailinne (see above; Johnson and Wailes 2007). Another Roman artefact from the immediate surrounding area is an oculist’s stamp from Golden Bridge (Fig. 4; Bateson 1973, 74; Daffy 2002). These stamps were used to mark medications and in this case, a treatment for the eyes.  As such they are quite unusual and cannot easily be explained as the evidence of booty or trade. The mechanisms by which such an artefact came to Ireland are still little understood but it is worth noting that it was found in a ditch along with some human remains – a possible burial?

Figure 3 - "Dolphin" type booch from the Rock of Cashel © Cahill 1982

Figure 4 - Oculist's stamp from Golden Bridge, Co. Tipperary © Raftery 1994
The case of Emain Macha is a rather complex one. The discovery during the excavations of the skull of a Barbary ape, whose natural habitat is North Africa, has triggered many questions (Lynn 2003, 48-50). The skull was recovered from within the figure-of-eight structure erected near the centre of the site and is dated to 390-20 BC (Raftery 1994, 79), pre-dating the large wooden building, or “temple” later erected on the site. This is also a period which precedes Rome’s expansion outside of Italy but the skull represents undeniable evidence for contacts between Ireland and the Mediterranean during the 3rd century BC. What the nature of these contacts were is open to question. Other remains of Barbary apes have been recovered from a number of other sites, such as the Iron Age hillfort of Tietelberg in Luxemburg and two Roman period sites in Britain. This would confirm the hint in the classical sources that these apes were traded as pets and prestige gifts (Lynn 2003, 50). 

It has also been suggested that Emain Macha was linked to the Classical world by a cult of Apollo (Sterckx 1996; Warner 1996a). This theory rests on the striking parallels between Irish, Welsh and Classical mythologies, namely the myths of Macha, Rhiannon and Leto- the latter being Apollo’s mother (Fig. 5). As Sternkx stresses however, these similarities are better explained as being derived from a common Indo-European myth than as a direct borrowing of Celtic from Classical mythology (1996, 76). On the other hand, Warner goes further by suggesting a direct link between Emain Macha and the cult of Apollo Cunomaglos attested by an inscription from Nettleton in Wiltshire: “Cunomaglos is the earlier, British form of the name of a mythical personage we know to have been associated with Emain...Conmáel son of Éber” (1996a, 79). He also quotes Diodorus Siculus, a Greek-Sicilian scholar writing in the first century BC, who describes how Greek travellers would honour Apollo in the land of the Hyperboreans- identified as Ireland – by bringing exotic gifts to his magnificent round temple (ibid. 77). By using these sources, Warner proposes a western European cult of a god known under local names (Apollo, Cunomaglos) and worshipped at Emain Macha, whose myths have then be incorporated into later Celtic cycles, with Conmáel mac Ébir being an earlier embodiment of Cú Chulainn (ibid. 81). Thus, there would be a religious connection between Ireland, Western Europe and the Classical world, and the skull of the Barbary ape found at Navan could be part of the evidence for it. While this specific theory seems a bit far-fetched, the presence of the Barbary ape skulls remains as striking evidence for contacts with the Mediterranean in the centuries preceding the birth of Christ and highlights the implications such contacts would have had in terms of local strategies of status negotiation (see also Newman 1998, 133).

Figure 5- Table of similarities between Greek and Irish mythologies ©Warner 1996a
On the Hill of Tara, the multivallate enclosure known as the Rath of the Synods has yielded one of the most impressive assemblages of Roman material from Ireland (Grogan 2008). The site was excavated in the 1950s –after suffering heavy disturbance at the hands of the British Israelites at the turn of the 20th century- and square timber structures were unearthed, dating to the first centuries AD. These were initially interpreted as a “residential enclosure with associated domestic and industrial activity” in the published report (ibid. 11) but later re-assessments pointed out the similarities with Romano-British shrines and consequently postulated a ritual function for the site (see Cahill-Wilson 2012 for a detailed discussion). The Roman artefacts from this phase include sherds from at least 8 ceramic vessels (among which Samian and Severn Valley ware), fragments of at least five high-quality glass drinking vessels, a lead seal, a barrel padlock, nails, fragments of glass jewellery including several beads, and a fibula spring (Fig.6).  The site is to date the most striking and unequivocal evidence for contacts between Ireland and the Roman world and its being a Royal site makes it all the more interesting (see also Armit 2013).

Figure 6 - Selection of small finds from the Rath of the Synods
© Grogan 2008
Last but not least, the Hill of Uisneach, Co. Westmeath has revealed some quite intriguing evidence. In late prehistory, the structures on the site had a ceremonial use (Donaghy and Grogan 1997, 26). During the excavations undertaken by Macalister and Praeger in the 1920s, a number of Iron Age finds came to light, including a Romano-British barrel padlock key (ibid. 25; see also Macalister and Praeger 1928). Interestingly, the only barrel-padlock of the type for which the Uisneach key would be used comes from none other than the Rath of the Synods (Fig. 7; Velzian Donaghy 2008).

Figure 7. The barrel-padlock from the Rath of the Synods © Grogan 2008
What this quick review of Roman material at the Royal sites of Ireland has shown is that not only there is such material at these sites, but that it is also part of a wider assemblage in the country which far from being intrusive and foreign, was an integral part of the archaeology of the later Iron Age period (Armit 2013; Cahill Wilson 2010; 2014). There are even some striking parallels or links between the sites, such as the recovery of similar brooches at Cashel and Dún Ailinne, and the key from Uisneach that matches the barrel-padlock from Tara. This material does not necessarily mean that the people who used or brought it with them “were Romans” but it highlights important links with the Roman world which could range from, for instance, direct or indirect trade or movements of people between Ireland and the Roman provinces. Overall, the contexts of recovery of Roman material in Ireland hint at its “special” place in Irish society: taken out of their Roman or Romano-British (or Gallo-Roman, etc.) context, they took on a new meaning in a local Irish environment, perhaps as “prestige items” (Cooney 1996, 3) or tools in the development of a new élite identity (e.g. Armit 2013, 292-203), or sometimes as tools in ceremonial practices (e.g. O’Floinn 2000). There is no single answer to the question of the significance of this material on the island: the picture is a complex and varied one (see Cahill Wilson 2014 for the latest research on this topic). 

In this view, the presence of Roman material at the Royal sites should be of particular significance, not just for our knowledge of the late Iron Age, but also for a better understanding of the role this period of the Royal sites’ history played in shaping their position in early mediaeval Ireland. The submission documents for the Tentative List in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland however, do not mention any of this. Instead, they both merely allude to the Roman Empire in a single line: 

“The Royal sites as a group bear exceptional testimony to Irish Iron Age civilisation (7th/6th century B.C. to 5th century A.D.). They reached their peak of activity at a time when most of Britain and Europe were under Roman domination”. 
(Tentative List for the Republic of Ireland, my emphasis) 

“Navan Fort...reached its peak of activity at a time when much of Europe was increasingly coming under Roman influence and domination”  
                    (Review of the Tentative List of the United Kingdom of  
Great Britain and Northern Ireland, my emphasis) 

The implication here is that while Britain and Europe were transformed because of their contacts with Rome, Ireland remained unaffected by the Empire. Furthermore, the description of the Royal sites as given in the submission documents emphasises their places in Irish mythology and the fact that they “continue to represent spiritual and symbolic centres of Irish culture and identity”. This position is tied into wider discourses of Irish cultural nationalism and representation of the Irish past, which shall explored in the second part of this essay.

Ireland, Britain and the Romans 
The links between nationalism and the development of Irish archaeology have long been recognized (e.g. Bradshaw 1989; Ellis 1991; Ó Donnabháin 2000). However, it is important here to draw a distinction between political and cultural nationalism, and to link archaeology specifically with the latter (Cooney 1996a, 148). The question of a Roman presence in Ireland is one that has a long history (e.g. Haverfield 1913) but until quite recently, the Roman material was considered as “intrusive” or “foreign” (e.g. Raftery 1994; for an in-depth assessment of this issue, see Cahill Wilson 2012; 2014). It just did not fit into the archaeological record of Late Iron Age Ireland. What is more, the question of Roman influence on Ireland has tended to receive a nationalist response over the years, or more precisely the influence of the Roman Empire on Ireland: Christianity, the Latin language, and the crafts brought over by monks and pilgrims in the 5th century are an integral part of the narrative (see e.g. Mytum 1992). However, the possible involvement of the Roman Empire in the development of Ireland has been less well received, as is best exemplified by the uproar surrounding the finds from Drumagnagh promontory fort in 1996. Following an article published in the Sunday Times, claiming that “one of Ireland’s strongest myths” (Sunday Times, 1996) had been shattered and that the island had after all been invaded by the Romans, a violent debate divided both the academic spheres and the public opinion. This assertion was based on a paper published a year earlier (Warner 1995), which reviewed the possibility of a Roman intervention in Ireland led by Tuathal Techmar, the Irish prince mentioned by Tacitus in his Agricola. Following the newspaper’s sensationalistic presentation of the “evidence” however, a highly politicised debate arose and opposing parties in both countries indulged in comments reminiscent of their recent shared history (see Cooney 1996b, Raftery 1996, Warner 1996b for diverging academic opinions). In order to understand the proportions this controversy quickly took, we will need to consider briefly the history of Irish archaeology and that of the Irish “Celtic” past. 

Following the Act of Union 1800 – which sealed the political and economic integration of Ireland into the United Kingdom- a nationalistic movement arose in Ireland which first took the shape of a cultural revival. The “Gaelic revival” consisted in the glorifying of a “Celtic” past and was led by George Petrie, who hoped to bring together both Irish Catholics and Protestants “in a common love of this ancient heritage” (Hutchinson 2001, 506). “Celtic” is here to be understood as belonging to pre-Christian and early mediaeval Ireland, a period seen as the Golden Age of Irish history (Cooney 1996a, 151). This revival was highly influenced by the Romantic movement and its fascination for the “ancient Celts” - something which affected not just Ireland but a number of its continental neighbours, as can be seen in the impact it had on the formation and development of the narratives surrounding “the Gauls” in French archaeology (see for instance Brunaux 2008; see also James 1999 and Collis 2003 for a wider discussion of “the Celts”).  The 19th century in Europe represent a very prolific phase of antiquarian investigations and in Ireland, this brought to light many of the treasures that are now hosted in the National Museum, such as the Ardagh hoard found in 1868 or the Tara Brooch found near Bettystown in 1850.These symbols of Ireland’s “Celtic” identity were integrated into political discourses, such as Daniel O’Connell’s campaign to repeal the Act of Union: it is no coincidence that O’Connell chose important historic sites such as the Hill of Tara, the Curragh (near Dún Ailinne) and Cashel for some of his 1843 rallies. The picture is however much more complex and the archaeological findings of this period, as well as the sites associated with Ireland’s “Celtic” past, were appropriated by rival communities and used to various political ends during the successive conflicts and wars leading to the Independence from the United Kingdom in the early 20th century. A comprehensive discussion of this issue is however beyond the scope of the present essay. 

This “Celtic” ethos which emerged from the 19th century cultural and political nationalism was still very central to the politics of the early Free State and played a non-negligible role in the shaping of modern Irish archaeology (e.g. Carew 2008; Cooney 1995; 1996a; Hutchinson 2001; O’Sullivan 2003). For indeed Ireland had to distinguish itself from its previous ruler and the impact of the complex historical relationship between the two countries is still visible today. As a result, the nature and extent of contacts with Britain – and Europe – still “underlies questions of Irish identity today” (Cooney 1995, 271-2). This becomes very clear in the case of contacts with the Roman world and is best illustrated in the Drumanagh controversy described above (see also Cahill Wilson 2010; 2012 for an in-depth discussion of this topic). However, in the context of the Royal sites application for World Heritage Site status, can these contacts with Rome play in their favour? We shall try and answer this question by analysing the way in which Roman heritage and archaeological sites are presented in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of other countries. 

Ireland, the Romans and World Heritage status
As we have seen above, the presence of Roman artefacts at the Royal sites, and their possible wider implications has not been mentioned in the nomination documents, and this despite the apparent significance of such material. What is the situation of “Roman-ness” in current World Heritage Sites (WHS) around the world? At present, there are in total 128 WHS, distributed across 35 countries, that mention their Roman heritage, of which 71 (55%) mention it in the “brief description” section on the UNESCO WHS website. Of these 128 sites however, only 53 (41%) have actual Roman remains still visible. These are grouped in only 18 of the 35 countries mentioning their Roman heritage in their World Heritage inscriptions. The table below shows the percentages of sites per country which have actual Roman remains, sites which mention a link with Rome, as opposed to the rest of the country’s WHS. For purposes of legibility and analysis, the diagram has been split in two parts: Table 1a presents the countries which do have Roman remains inscribed on the WHS list – classified according to the number of Roman sites present-, whereas table 1b is concerned with the countries which highlight their link with Rome despite having no physical Roman remains still visible today.

Table 1a - WHS: Roman sites, Roman links and other sites

Table 1b – WHS: Roman links and other sites

The countries in table 1b have also been arranged by number of sites mentioning links with the Roman world within each of them. We can thus see from these diagrams that there are different attitudes to “Roman-ness” across the various countries which possess Roman architectural remains inscribed as WHS. For instance, Roman sites (13) and sites mentioning links with the Roman world (8) make up ca. 45% of Italy’s WHS. In comparison, Lebanon only possesses 3 sites with Roman remains (60%) and another one linked to a Roman heritage, but these amount to 80% of the country’s WHS. Austria on the other hand, has no Roman remains inscribed on the World Heritage list but more than 65% of its sites highlights links with the Roman world. A detailed analysis of each country’s motivations for claiming links with the Roman world is beyond the scope of this research and only a small selection of striking cases can and will be addressed below. 

What is striking when looking at this list of countries mentioning their Roman heritage in their WHS descriptions – and highly relevant to our case-study of Ireland-  is that four of them are actually beyond the frontiers of the Roman Empire, namely Ethiopia, Iran, Turkmenistan and Zanzibar. The way they link their inscribed sites to Rome is telling of the appeal of such a link, no matter how thin it may be: 
“... 5th century CE Roman and Sassanian-Islamic pottery has been found” 
Stone Town of Zanzibar, Tanzania 


“...  It has been suggested that Greek and Roman soldiers, survivors of the crushing Parthian defeat of the Romans at Carrhae in 53 BC, may have been settled at Margiana” 
Ancient Merv, Turkmenistan

Furthermore, France and Switzerland have inscribed respectively the jurisdiction of Saint Emilion wine and the Lavaux vineyard terraces and in both instances, the fact that the Romans brought viticulture to the region is mentioned in the “Brief description” introductory paragraph on the WHS website. There is therefore a clear appeal in the concept of “Rome” and its heritage which has been and is still being used by various countries in their nominations for World Heritage status and one could rightly ask, if Zanzibar can mention Roman pottery, surely the large Roman assemblage from the Rath of the Synods can be given even a line in the Irish Tentative List submission form? But let us look closer at the current WHS in Ireland and the potential of Roman links for the nomination of the Royal sites. 

Brú na Bóinne was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1994 and was also the site of discovery of Roman artefacts, most famously the deposition of gold ornaments in front of the entrance to Newgrange passage tomb (Ó Ríordáin 1947, 79; Topp 1956;Carson and Kelly 1977). This is indeed mentioned on the World Heritage Ireland website and what more, the nature of the Roman presence at Brú na Bóinne is the topic of one of the research questions listed in the Research Framework (Smyth 2009, 66). World Heritage status should indeed be linked to research or potential for research (Cooney 2007, 302) and in this perspective, the Roman aspect of the Royal sites could substantially add to their nomination proposal. In fact, the late Iron Age of Ireland and the country’s relationship with the Roman world has been the topic of the “Late Iron Age and Roman Ireland” research project undertaken by the Discovery Programme which after three years of investigation is now drawing to a close (see Cahill Wilson 2014). With some of the project’s results already providing a better understanding of Ireland’s links with Rome, the (pre)history of the Royal sites and their position in the wider Irish and Roman world will potentially become an attractive candidate for further research.  

Furthermore, one cannot deny the touristic appeal of “Rome”: one just needs to think of the “Roman games” organised in the amphitheatres of southern France, or of the “Roman soldiers” and “gladiators” posing with tourists around the Colosseum in Rome. Closer to the northern frontiers of the Empire, the British and the Germans equally indulge in “Roman festivals” around the year (Fig. 8). By integrating the Roman side of the story behind the Royal sites into their nomination documents, this would certainly increase their touristic potential and as such, act in favour of the sites’ future economic needs for management and research.

Figure 8- "Swords, bread and games” festival, Xanten, Germany (June 2012) © A. Guglielmi
Furthermore, the criteria for Outstanding Universal Value which are currently proposed for the nomination of the Royal sites in the Republic of Ireland are criteria iii, iv and vi, two of which could directly apply to an additional “Roman side” of the sites’ heritage:  

Criterion (iii): The site should bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared; 

Criterion (vi): The site should be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs with artistic and literary works or outstanding universal significance; 

Ireland was indeed part of a wider European, Roman-influenced world, and the first section of this paper has shown that material evidence for this was present at the Royal sites. The cultural heritage of the Roman world is visible not least in the adoption of Christianity, but also – among other things -  in imported crafts such as millefiori (Laing 2006, 124) and in the Irish language, which received a large number of loan words during the Old Irish period (for instance tempul (Mod. Irish. teampall) “temple, church” from Latin templum; argat (Mod. Irish airgead) “silver” from Latin argentum). The Roman Christian legacy has long been accepted for the archaeology of early mediaeval Ireland, but it is time now to also consider the contemporary influence on Iron Age Ireland of the Roman world during the imperial period. 

Finally, the transnational nomination for “The Frontiers of the Roman Empire” between the United Kingdom and Germany might provide an example for the Royal sites of Ireland. The nomination of Hadrian’s Wall in Scotland and the Eastern limes (frontier structures, walls, forts and watch towers) was successful and the sites enjoy a great popularity, with over 100 000 visitors at Housesteads Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall in 2009 (Visit England). A joint nomination of the five Royal sites in the Republic and Emain Macha in Northern Ireland would not only strengthen their case as a coherent ensemble (see also Davies et al. 2011) but would also contribute to the relationship between the Irish and British archaeological and heritage sectors by enabling them to work together on the preservation and presentation of these sites. I would even suggest that such collaboration, based on a shared cultural heritage, may be very welcome in the current political context, as a symbolic shaking of hands between the two countries.    

Concluding thoughts 
Despite the lack of any mention of a Roman heritage in the Tentative List submission format for the Royal sites of the Republic of Ireland, we have seen that there is indeed material evidence for contacts with the Roman world in the form of artefacts, but also of linguistic and literary evidence in the case of Emain Macha. A consideration of the possible reasons behind a rejection of Roman heritage and influence in Ireland has addressed issues of Irish politics and nationalism in relation to the emergence of modern Irish archaeology. On this topic, I have concluded in agreement with Cooney (1995, 272) that the political tensions between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland are still impacting on archaeological practice in both countries today.

Finally, I have argued that the integration of the Royal sites’ Roman heritage in their WHS application forms could enhance their changes of attaining this status. Furthermore, it could provide an additional touristic appeal and as such benefit the economic potential of the sites and as a result, contribute to their preservation and promotion. Similarly, such status would greatly benefit current research on the late Iron Age period and the links with Rome at these sites. In conclusion, I have suggested, somewhat echoing Petrie’s hopes regarding the “Gaelic revival” in the 19th century, that a transnational nomination of the five Royal sites within the Republic and Emain Macha in Northern Ireland could help the current political situation by promoting the shared cultural heritage of the two countries.


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Brief resume of the entrant:
After a 4-year BA in Archaeology Classics and Classical Art in UCL London, and a year abroad in Hamburg, I moved to Ireland and undertook a Masters in Prehistory at UCD where I am currently in my second year of PhD. My research project examines the personal ornaments of Roman origin found in Ireland and southern Scandinavia and analyses how these were integrated into local contexts, paying specific attention to their possible incorporation into indigenous dress traditions and the implications of this. My wider research interests focus on cultural change and interaction in late prehistoric Europe, marrying archaeological and linguistic approaches.

Note: The content of essay is the product of independent research undertaken during my MA for a module on “World Heritage site management in Ireland”, taught by Prof Gabriel Cooney. The version I am submitting is an updated version of the original essay, which incorporates some of the insights gained during my doctoral research so far.