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`Watershed moment’ for protection of Neolithic Co Down burial site

The first formal stage in the removal of a controversial wind turbine built alongside a protected ceremonial site at the centre of an ancient Irish kingdom has been passed with cross-community political support.

The turbine at Knock Iveagh outside Rathfriland, Co Down was put up in 2017 after planning permission was granted by the former Department of the Environment four years earlier.

However, heritage experts were not consulted about the application, which was for land beside a 5,000-year-old neolithic burial site scheduled as a historic monument, and they said they would have recommended refusal.

Following a planning shake-up, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council now has jurisdiction and has been under pressure to revoke permission – at an estimated compensation cost of up to £750,000.

Councillors have agreed the turbine is “having an adverse environmental impact on the integrity of the setting of the scheduled monument at Knock Iveagh and the visual amenity and landscape character of the site”.

They are formally passing the case on to the Department for Infrastructure, asking that “it uses its legal powers under Section 75 of the Planning Act to discontinue the use of the land for wind energy generation, and to specify steps for the removal of the turbine and works at the site or exercise its powers of enforcement in respect of an apparent unauthorised development at the site and requesting that the Department for Infrastructure exercise its powers of enforcement before exercising its powers under Section 75 of the Act”.

The council is also asking that the department bear the costs it incurred while attempting to resolve the issue.

South Down MP Chris Hazzard welcomed the “unanimous cross-party decision” and said it is a potential “watershed moment” for campaigners.

“Cnoc Úibh Eachach, or Knock Iveagh, is located in the ancient parishes of Drumballyroney and Annaclone; and was a focal point for some of the earliest tribe and clan communities in this part of Ireland,” the Sinn Féin MP said.

“Indeed the name ‘Cnoc Úibh Eachach’ indicates that the site was considered the most important `cnoc’ or `knock’ in the historic kingdom of Iveagh.

“Historians believe that the summit was the likely inauguration site and ritual area for the Úi Echach Cobha tribe, and later the `Lords of Iveagh’, the prominent Magennis clan.

“A site of such unique and rich historical, ritual and archaeological significance should not be blighted by any form of development whose economic value is paltry compared to the unparalleled national significance of Cnoc Úibh Eachach, the ceremonial site at the centre of the ancient kingdom of Úibh Eachach Cobha.”

The campaign also has the support of UUP assembly member Doug Beattie who said he will lobby departmental officials to pay for the costs of any remedial action.

“It’s a good day for Northern Ireland’s shared heritage but there is still some way to go,” he said.