This image of Fore Abbey is among those featured in the exhibition.

‘Monumental Ireland’ photo exhibition captures beauty of Ireland’s ancient past

A new collection of photographs of some of the finest archaeological monuments in the country is being shown in The Printworks in Dublin Castle on February 8-12 in an exhibition called ‘Monumental Ireland’.

The exhibition is curated by the National Monuments Service (NMS) in partnership with the Office of Public Works (OPW).

Offering fresh perspectives on Ireland’s ancient monuments, it “highlights the resilience of the monuments and their vulnerability.

The exhibition provides in one space an accessible and breathtaking gaze at a range of monuments that tell the story of Ireland”, said the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage Press Office in a press statement.

The photos are from the National Monuments Service Photographic Unit, set up in 1955.

The unit has built its collection of photographs over the years and the archive is now approaching 550,000 images, mainly of national monuments and historic properties in state care.

The Photographic Unit’s main function is to record conservation works at national monuments and to maintain its collection of photographs of sites and monuments, recording their condition and conservation works.

Selected images from the photographic archive will be on display to the public at Monumental Ireland, allowing members of the public to witness and appreciate the monuments and the work of the Photographic Unit in cataloguing that heritage.

The exhibition includes new imagery of the Winter Solstice at Newgrange passage tomb. As part of a two-year research project between NMS and OPW, imagery captured from a high resolution camera in the burial chamber and controlled via an internet connection, has shown the dawn sun rays illuminating the chamber as never previously captured, enabling the phenomenon to be witnessed by everyone.

There are some 145,000 known archaeological monuments across Ireland, representing more than 12,000 years of human settlement.

“That archaeological heritage is central to a sense of place for communities across the country, evidence of continuity and change across our landscapes and towns. Offering places of retreat, for quiet reflection and education, they also prompt questioning of a past which has been at times conflicted in its complexity of ancient tribalism, conquest and independence.”

Over the last 150 years, approximately 1000 of the monuments have come into the care of the state and are the responsibility of Ireland’s Office of Public Works and National Monuments Service.

The images in the NMS Photographic Archive demonstrate the value of using modern photographic techniques in preserving records of the past. Advanced photographic technology is increasingly being used to better understand and record the monuments and conservation work carried out on them.

High Resolution Medium Format cameras are used to capture intense detail of monuments across the country, and infrared camera technology brings this detail to life, including prehistoric rock art and ship graffiti.

Drone technology is also now an integral part of the survey and monitoring regime, producing photogrammetric models for ongoing conservation research.

Minister of State for Heritage, and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan TD said: “This exhibition is a wonderful display of the beauty of our archaeological monument in state care, managed by OPW. I applaud the work of our National Monuments Service in curating this exhibition and managing its extraordinary photographic archive.”

Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW Patrick O’Donovan TD said: “Our partnership with the National Monuments Service is a strong one. The photographing of the monuments in our care, including of conservation works carried out by us is a really important record that I am delighted to see exhibited so wonderfully here in Dublin Castle.”

The exhibition in The Printworks in Dublin Castle is free entry and runs from 8-12 February.

Aerial drone view of Clogh Oughter Castle in Lough Oughter, County Cavan. Photo by John Lalor - Senior Photographer NMS
Research Project at Newgrange Solstice 2020 Photo by John Lalor - Senior Photographer NMS