An iconic stone near the 6th-century monastery in Glendalough has suffered lasting damage after an apparent act of vandalism.
Pat Reid, Project Manager at the Glendalough Heritage Forum, has revealed that a thousand-year-old monument known as the Deer Stone has four "significant cracks" running across it, adding that the cracks may run quite deep.
The Deer Stone, a granite bullaun stone with a hollow depression at its center, is located at the heart of the Wicklow Mountains National Park and is linked to St. Kevin, who founded the monastery in the 6th century.
Reid said he found the stone cracked and burned after he heard reports of a fire in Glendalough last week.
Reid told RTÉ's Today with Philip Boucher-Hayes that the cracks are a "serious issue".
"This is a significant problem in that if water gets into these cracks during winter the resulting freeze-thaw will cleave the boulder that holds it apart," Reid told Today with Philip Boucher-Hayes.
"There was some damage to it before, but it has really accelerated it."
"It has sat here for well over a thousand years and has never suffered such damage."— RTÉ News (@rtenews) August 9, 2023
Heritage experts fear lasting damage may have been caused to a centuries-old monument known as the Deer Stone in Glendalough, Co Wicklow.
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Reid added that the fire was deliberate based on the markings and discoloration on the stone.
He speculated that the fire may have been set for cooking purposes or to cause damage deliberately.
The full extent of the damage is not yet known and a report has been compiled by the National Monuments Service, which oversees all national monuments.
Reid told TheJournal.ie that the damage appeared to result from "senseless vandalism".
"There seems to be no motivation for it. That’s the thing," he told TheJournal.ie
"I find it hard that people would do such a thing on purpose. I think it’s just complete and utter disrespect, disregard for our national heritage."
Reid told RTÉ that the ancient monument will need to be cleaned and assessed by an archaeologist, who will determine whether it can be repaired. He added that the stone will likely be fenced while assessed.
However, he said it is impossible to fence every monument in the country and warned that Ireland's national monuments are "disappearing at quite a rate".
"It is shocking, the absolute ignorance involved here," Reid told Today with Philip Boucher-Hayes.
"People know they are in a national monument, they still light a fire on it.
"It is happening all the time in places like Glendalough where people are climbing onto the monuments, losing stones, they are lying down on graves to pose for photographs."
The National Monuments Service has confirmed that it is reporting the incident to An Garda Síochána.
Reid said the original purpose of the Deer Stone is unknown but said it may have been used to prepare food or for metal production.
He added that bullaun stones were repurposed as Christian sites following the arrival of Christianity in Ireland during the 5th century. Some stones now have religious functions, he added.