Environment Minister John Gormley faces another archaeological headache over the development of a new port in north Dublin. A passage tomb, which could be up to 6,000 years old, lies in the land earmarked for a deepwater port at Bremore, near Balbriggan, which is being developed by the Drogheda Port Company and Treasury Holdings at a cost of €300m.
And a 17th-century harbour, historic wrecks and a cairn on the beach - which could contain the remains of victims of a wreck in 1875 - could also be affected.The passage tomb, which is protected, could be one of the earliest examples in the country and the port's developers will have to produce a plan as to how the port can go ahead without it being affected. This is the third infrastructure project that could be delayed by concerns about archaeology.The discovery of a national monument on the route of the controversial M3 could still be the focus of a legal challenge which could delay the project, while concerns have also been raised about archaeology on the site of a proposed superdump at Tooman Nevitt, also near Balbriggan.The passage tomb contains the remains of cremated bodies and could date from 4000 BC, Professor Gabriel Cooney of the UCD School of Archaeology said yesterday."I think there would be agreement across the archaeological community that if they were bulldozed it would be a national loss, given the number of sites we know, the potential significance of them and the fact there's a complex of them," he said.The oldest known passage tomb complex is at Newgrange in Co Meath, which dates from 3000 BC. This could be 1,000 years older, and could contain other hidden gems.
A spokesman for the Drogheda Port Company said that a full assessment of the area would be carried out before any application for planning permission was lodged. A planning application is not expected before mid-2008, and it is hoped the port will open by the end of 2012.The cemetery of passage tombs consists of a main mound and four smaller mounds around it. A preservation order was placed on the structure in 1976. Last night, a spokesman for Mr Gormley said the minister was aware of the issue and would ensure the historical site was protected."While he must reserve his position until he is given further details of the port development proposals, it is his intention to continue to ensure that appropriate protection is offered to the Bremore passage tombs and other elements of the archaeological heritage," he said.The National Monuments Service had also been instructed to liaise with the Drogheda Port Company to ensure Mr Gormley's views are taken into account.