[This issue, we sit down with Andy Bambrick. Active in the fight to preserve Ireland’s monuments, Bambrick here discusses how he became involved with the work, what it involves, and what
ev0ke: How do you define your personal spiritual practice? Does it have a name, or is it more intuitive and eclectic?
Andy Bambrick: I am not overly spiritual. I am a Catholic. I do not attend Mass regularly, but I like having the church and ceremonies there for weddings, christenings, funerals etc, but I also visit Holy Wells to ask for help and make offerings. Likewise I suppose like many people here there are still connections to our animistic past, whereby we believe in dire consequences for those who interfere with sacred places, and in Ireland that often means archaeological monuments such as Raths (Fairy Forts), Stone Circles, Mounds, etc.
ev0ke: You are actively involved in the protection and preservation of archaeological monuments in Ireland. First, how did you become involved with saving Ireland’s monuments?
AB: As a small child my mother and father brought us off visiting monuments around the country and I heard from them the stories of farmers bulldozing monuments on the land. I went to college as a mature student and studied archaeology, which enabled me to learn how to survey monument preservation levels and this proved what my parents had told me was true and that damage to and destruction of monuments is still happening. So I decided to try and do something about it, firstly in my academic studies where I proved it was still going on, and now through social media where I raise awareness and get people involved, I also help people to report damage, or report on their behalf.
ev0ke: What sorts of dangers threaten Ireland’s monuments? And are some more vulnerable than others?
AB: Farming and development are the biggest threats to monuments, land improvements, drainage, damage by hooves of livestock in wet weather, animals and machinery knocking over standing stones, clearing sites for development. We also have damage by visitors to sites, graffiti, people lighting fires, visitors scratching their names on to stones, people altering stone monuments, taking stones from cairns, adding and removing stones, damage to earthwork monuments by too many visitors eroding the soil, etc.
ev0ke: There have, unfortunately, been quite a few news reports over the last few years of tourists mistreating archaeological or other sites. What advice can you offer to someone visiting a site? And what should they do if they come across someone else damaging a site?
AB: Leave the site the same as it was when you got there. If you come across someone engaging in an activity that could damage a site, you could try having a chat with them and point out the error of their ways; you could also inform them they are breaking the law and could get themselves in trouble. If that fails, or if they have already caused damage, report them to the authorities
ev0ke: This might be a difficult question, but, if you had to pick one favorite archaeological site or monument, which would it be? And why?
AB: I have lots of favourite monuments; if I have to pick one it would have to be the Curragh of Kildare. Why? Lots of reasons, I am a Kildare man and it means something special to us here. I played there as a child, the mythology and folklore associated with the site and it’s connection to the Saint/Goddess/Priestess/Bishop Brigid. The historical importance of the plain. I know the stories. We have one monument there, the Gibbet Rath where hundreds of unarmed Irish rebels were lured and slaughtered by British forces; to us that monument symbolises Perfidious Albion (British Treachery). I have surveyed the burial monuments, Barrows and Mounds on the Curragh, I have reported damage to monuments there and contributed to plans that aim to protect the plain and the hundreds of monument sites there. It is just a really special place to visit and I feel a real connection to the land and the people who went before me, when I am standing on the Curragh.
ev0ke: On a related note: many of these sites are associated with specific myths or folk tales. Which story do you find the most intriguing, or tragic, or wonderful?
AB: There are so many great stories associated with our monuments, but I suppose sticking with the Curragh theme, here is a bit from an article I wrote on Save Irish Fairy Forts about St Brigid and the story I was told growing up in Kildare.
Saint Brigid’s Day
The first of February is Saint Brigid’s Day and also around the time of Imbolc, a traditional festival marking the beginning of spring. There is some debate over whether Brigid was a real person. She has the same name, associations and feast day as the Celtic goddess Brigid, and there are many supernatural events, legends and folk customs associated with her.
Some scholars suggest that the saint is a Christianised form of the goddess. Others that she was a real person who took on the goddess’ attributes. Early Christian monks could have adapted Brigid the goddess, and grafted her name and functions onto her Christian counterpart. It has also been suggested that Brigid was chief priestess at the temple of the goddess Brigid, and was responsible for converting it into a Christian monastery. After her death, the name and characteristics of the goddess became attached to the saint.
We call her Saint Brigid and my earliest memory of her was when my parents brought me to the Curragh of Kildare and told me the story of how Brigid gained the Curragh plains for her church and the people of Ireland. There are different versions of the story, some involving a king with the ears of a horse or ass whom Brigid cured. But the one I heard begins with young Brigid born into slavery, her mother a slave, her father a powerful chieftain. Growing up she was noted as generous to those less fortunate and possessing healing powers, curing the sick, and even giving away her mother and father’s possessions to help the poor.
Her father was annoyed at this and tried to sell her as a slave to the King of Leinster. However while her father was talking to the king she gave away his best sword to a beggar so he could sell it to get food for his family. The king was amused by this act, and it impressed on him a fondness for Brigid, so he convinced her father to grant her freedom.
Sometime later, Brigid asked the king for land to build her convent, she had identified a place in Kildare which would provide everything she would need. The king was not known for his generosity to the poor and laughed at her request, but Brigid prayed and asked him if she could have as much land as her cloak would cover. Seeing her little cloak, the king agreed. But when Brigid spread her cloak on the ground, it spread North, South, East and West until it covered the Curragh of Kildare.
After witnessing this miracle, the king changed his ways, became a Christian and vowed to help the less well off in his kingdom. He helped Brigid build her convent and kept his promise to let her keep the land that her cloak had covered. And there it remains to this day, the plain of Brigid, the Curragh of Kildare.
ev0ke: How can people become involved with protecting Ireland’s monuments? Or even monuments in their own area? Which organizations do you recommend?
AB: I recommend they like/follow Save Irish Fairy Forts Heritage Conservation Community. They can also get involved with local history and archaeology groups.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
AB: I do voluntary work on ecological surveys recording flora and fauna in my local area. I am lucky to live in a Special Area of Conservation and it is important to protect what we have. Recording the data and knowing what we have here, helps us to defend the sites against threats from development.