- An Grianán of Aileach now opens daily at 08:00 local time
- There has been concern locally about limited access to the ancient site
- A member of the Irish parliament says the site has been ‘neglected’ over a number of years
- Pádraig Mac Lochlainn says it is as significant in Irish history as the Hill of Tara
New opening hours have been introduced at one of County Donegal’s most historic monuments.
It follows concerns about limited access to An Grianán of Aileach, a hilltop fort that dates to the 9th Century BC.
The site now opens from 08:00 to 18:00 local time each day, the Irish government’s Office of Public Works (OPW) said.
Sinn Féin TD (member of the Irish parliament) Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said locally there is a desire for “round the clock access” to An Grianán.
“An Grianán of Aileach is part of our community, part of our heritage,” Mr Mac Lochlainn told BBC Radio Foyle’s North West Today programme.
“It has been argued to me by historians that An Grianán of Aileach is as important to Irish history as the Hill of Tara (the seat of the High Kings of Ireland)”.
He added: “The problem as a public representative is there just hasn’t been dialogue with the local community”.
Designated a National Monument by the Irish government, the hillfort sits on a mountain top between Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly in the island of Ireland’s north west.
The earliest evidence of a fort at the site dates to between 1100 and 800 BC.
The stone fort structure is thought to have been built in the 9th century AD and is likely to have been used by the Cenél nÉogain, a branch of the medieval O’Neill clan, for inauguration and other royal ceremonies, according to the OPW.
Mr Mac Lochlainn said the fact that the site was regularly being closed without advance notice has been concerning.
Its closure, he added, has been going on for a prolonged period of time and sparked a campaign to restore unlimited access.
In a statement, the OPW said the new opening hours came into effect on Friday “save for such occasions of national storm alerts when the site, for the safety of all, will have to be closed”.
“These opening arrangements will be kept under review by the Office of Public Works who look forward to continuing positive engagement with the local community into the future,” the OPW added.
Mr Mac Lochlainn said there has long been an onus on authorities to maximise the heritage site’s potential.
“If you go to the Hill of Tara there is a very clear tourism infrastructure around it, there’s a visitor centre, there is all the things you would expect at a tourist location.
“An Grianán of Aileach has been neglected,” he said.