Noting it as a once-in-a-generation opportunity, Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O Brien, TD, confirmed the State’s purchase of the World Heritage lands of Dowth Hall and demesne, including Netterville, in Meath and the establishment of a new National Park – the Boyne Valley (Brú na Bóinne) National Park.
The property is 552 acres in size, and is a cultural and natural heritage site of national and international importance. It includes Dowth Hall, an eighteenth century neoclassical country house, and Netterville Manor, a late Victorian almshouse. The lands amount to approximately one third of the total area of the UNESCO World Heritage Property of Brú na Bóinne, which includes the great Neolithic passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth.
This historic purchase, announced in Dowth by Minister O’Brien together with the Minister of State with responsibility for Heritage, Malcolm Noonan TD, paves the way for Ireland’s newest National Park – the Boyne Valley (Brú na Bóinne) National Park.
Ireland’s National Parks protect our biodiversity and built heritage, and promote education, research and recreation. The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) manages six National Parks, with Wicklow Mountains National Park the only one in the east of the country. With its diverse, world renowned nature and heritage, Dowth presents a remarkable opportunity to designate a seventh National Park.
The heritage of Dowth spans from early prehistory through to the medieval period, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries right up to the modern era. The diverse range of historical periods reflected in its archaeology and built heritage, along with its natural beauty and biodiversity makes Dowth a unique site within the list of UNESCO World Heritage Properties.
Dowth has been actively managed by Devenish Nutrition over the last decade to preserve its cultural heritage and biodiversity. As well as their position within the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Property, the Dowth lands are important places for nature. They host a wide range of habitats, including species-rich grasslands, native woodlands and mature hedgerows. The Boyne River which runs through the lands is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the Habitats Directive, and as a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the Birds Directive. The river is home to dozens of bird and animal species, including endangered species. The NPWS will maintain the careful management of the farmlands, habitats and species to date and will work to protect and improve it even further.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service, the National Monuments Service and the Office of Public Works will now work together to deliver a Masterplan for the property that allows for the protection, presentation and management of this area of the Boyne Valley for the people of Ireland. Management of Dowth Hall and lands will form part of the existing Brú na Bóinne Management Plan and strengthen the vision for the protection of Dowth’s remarkable heritage, including the Neolithic passage tomb discovered in 2017 under Dowth Hall itself.
The Masterplan will expand measures and commitments to ensure protection of heritage at the site and to promote and enable the public to enjoy its natural and cultural beauty. It will include concrete proposals which support and build on research, education and public engagement to inform policy and future management of the property and its biodiversity. The plan envisages capacity building in the public, private and research sectors to deliver benefits for archaeology, the farming community and farmland biodiversity. The property also has great potential for engagement with schools, educational bodies, the business sector and the wider public.
Speaking at Dowth Hall, Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien TD said:
“Rarely does the State get an opportunity to acquire lands of such significance. This landscape and property is of exceptional heritage importance. Here in this one place we have over 5000 years of recorded history. In our care, it will significantly enhance our management of the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage landscape. We will conserve and protect Dowth’s heritage in line with our obligations to UNESCO and we will enhance responsible tourism, ensuring it becomes a standout destination. This purchase opens up possibilities for us to develop heritage partnerships, protect remarkable heritage and make it accessible. It is simply an outstanding opportunity for an outstanding place”.
Minister of State with responsibility for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD added, “this intact 18th century demesne, layered over a monumental prehistoric landscape of global importance and combined with the outstanding natural heritage of the Boyne Valley represents an outstanding addition to Ireland’s family of National Parks. We look forward to sustaining and growing this legacy to ensure that farming, nature and the cultural heritage of this ancient landscape can continue in harmony, as they have done since our ancestors first settled in the Boyne Valley over 5,500 years ago. Through our partnerships with state agencies, departments, local authorities and communities – which are enshrined in Heritage Ireland 2030, our national heritage plan – we are committed to nurturing Dowth as a key pillar of Ireland’s remarkable heritage that we can all admire, be proud of and enjoy.”
Niall O Donnchu, Director General of National Parks and Wildlife Service said, “the work begins now of developing a Masterplan for Dowth. We will approach this with a keen sense of responsibility, ambition and excitement, knowing that this is a remarkable opportunity for Ireland’s heritage to play a lead role in the regional economy and in place-making for the east of the country. This new National Park is a special place where history, heritage, nature and culture collide. We will work with stakeholders in developing a Masterplan that will deliver on its full potential for locals, visitors and generations to come. I want to pay tribute to our team across the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the National Monuments Services for their work on this acquisition, and on their readiness to take over custodianship of this remarkable place from Devenish who have championed and maintained it with such care over the last ten years.”
Minister of State with responsibility for Office of Public Works, Patrick O’Donovan TD, said, “Dowth demesne is a key part of the outstanding heritage of the Boyne Valley. It is highly significant that the State will now be able to unite the wider historic landscape to create an extraordinary resource for the enjoyment of current and future generations. The OPW has a long association with this area of Meath, conserving and presenting the extraordinary archaeological, natural and built heritage of both Brú na Bóinne and the Battle of the Boyne site. We are excited to be working with our colleagues in NPWS and the National Monuments Service to secure the future of the incredibly important historic landscape at Dowth. I want to acknowledge the OPW skilled craftsmen and women who, for decades, have conserved, presented and interpreted Brú na Bóinne and who will relish the opportunity to conserve the rich and diverse heritage elements at Dowth.”