People who have visited Ulster’s outer edge at Glencolumcille may recognise this map. It is in the car park by the beach and has been getting hit by salty wind, sunlight and hard rain for at least fifteen years. Over that time the map has faded. It once charted sites of archaeological significance throughout county Donegal. The words ‘Discover Donegal’s Archaeological Heritage’ can still be discerned in the upper left. Practically every other word on the map has worn away completely. Routes and sites are still visible on the chart but the key has vanished, leaving the sites unexplained and mysterious.
Donegal’s Archaeological Heritage
No one maintains this map but it remains on site, no longer able to do its original job. I do not consider this a problem. Seeing just such relaxed inattentions is one nice thing about visiting these remote spots. This map is far from maintenance teams, far from impact assessments. It does not strive for consistency. But there is nothing wrong with it. The map has merely retired. It has moved into a new phase.
There are about fifty archaeological sites labelled on the map but, as there is no key, we have no way of knowing what they are. We see only that they exist and the map now tells us, in the broadest possible sense, that we are travelling in an antique land. The map has faded and become impressionist. It is no longer just about archaeology, it has itself become archaeology. We peer at it and wonder what exactly it meant to those people, now long gone, who first erected it. We may be able to detect in its foundations the optimism of an early 1990’s tourist infrastructure initiative. And now, stepping back, we can see how such grand plans fell to the endless drive of the elements. The light, the wind and the rain. All of which combined, especially on the Atlantic seaboard, defeat everything in the end.