A WICKLOW developer has come under fire over attempts to build houses on the site of a 17th-century massacre in which hundreds of Irish peasants were slaughtered by British forces.
The local authority recently granted planning permission for the development at Weston Close in Ballyguile but now residents, politicians and historians are appealing it to An Bord Pleanála.
Environment minister John Gormley has also responded to submissions made by a concerned party and his department is currently reviewing the granted planning permission. However, a spokesperson for the department said that they do not have any remit to interfere with a local authority's decision in planning matters. According to local sources, the soil entombs the remains of over 300 people whose bodies were first discovered by the local authority in the 1930s. The find halted earlier development attempts.
But developer Paddy Meyler told the Sunday Tribune that he has archaeological reports from an original planning permission in 1996 that shows there are no remains where he is planning to build three houses. That planning permission lapsed in 2001 and the application was subsequently renewed.
The 17th-century victims had crowded into a church on the site which was burned to the ground by vengeful soldiers following a raid on Black Castle by the O'Toole clan, some time around the late 1640s.
"The Irish above all have always shown respect for the dead," said Eamonn Griffin of the National Graves Association. "Anytime anyone has gone near the area they have found remains. The reason this is important is that this is the last resting place of civilians who were massacred."
A meeting of local residents and other concerned parties took place last week to plan their next objection, this time to An Bord Pleanála.
Sinn Féin councillor Eamonn Long, who is amongst the objectors, said the massacre was an act of vengeance by Sir Charles Coote, a military leader during the infamous Cromwellian era. "Many of them tried to escape the fire but they [the British soldiers] killed them on the way out," he said. "Generations of people have passed this story down and the area actually got its name from that day – Baile na nGol, which means 'the hill of the crying'."
Long claims that previous attempts to develop the site were halted by the Office of Public Works (OPW) for the same reasons. "A lot of people are aware of the history of the site. They are not against building as such but they want the council to preserve this site."
However, the developer claims that archaeologists have already said there are no remains, but that they will be present during construction. He has also promised to provide a memorial to the victims and a public park.