An archaeological dig at Tempo has failed to unearth anything of interest, clearing the way for a possible housing development on the site, which local residents claim will "ruin" the look of the village.

The distinctive ring of trees on top of the hill at Edenmore marks an Early Christian rath, or fortified farm. It is a landmark site, clearly visible to the left of the Main Street as one travels towards Clabby and Fivemiletown.

A developer has applied for planning permission to build 21 houses on the 1.3 hectare field in which the ring of trees stand. The area is zoned for development so the Planning Service would be inclined to grant permission for the scheme.

However, local campaigners say the Fermanagh Area Plan highlights the archaeological significance of the site and designates the fort and some of the land around it for special protection.

Local resident Frankie McPhillips says people are not against the housing scheme but feel that it is "too big", both in terms of the number of dwellings and the fact that most are two storey. He says people are also concerned that building would take place on the skyline and right up to the fort.

"It's going to ruin that whole view of the fort," says Mr. McPhillips.

The NIEA (Northern Ireland Environment Agency) Historic Monuments Unit has been made aware of the proposed development. It notes that as the site is "immediately adjacent to an Early Christian rath, there exists the possibility that further, previously unrecorded archaeological remains associated with the monument may exist" within the site.

"We need to establish with greater certainty, the potential impacts of development on sub-suface archaeological remains at this location," it states.

It asked for a "management plan for the rath to be submitted detailing proposed future use and maintenance of the monument" and an archaeological evaluation of the site, warning that failure to do so would provide "a basis for the refusal of planning permission".

The developer employed Otra Archaeology to carry out the evaluation. The work involved the digging of 18 trial trenches, each two metres wide, and five metres apart, across the site, to the depth of the first archaeological deposits or subsoil.

An NIEA spokesman said that archaeological evaluation has now been completed.

"A number of trenches were mechanically excavated as part of the evaluation, however no below ground archaeological remains of interest were uncovered during this process," he revealed.

That could leave the way clear for the developer to get planning permission.

Owen Sheridan, who lives adjacent to the site, says he is not opposed to houses being built there "but the proposed scheme submitted is much too big and totally out of character with the area".

He says that like many of his neighbours he was initially incredulous that there were plans to develop the site.

"My attitude was the same as everybody else: Nobody will be building there," he explains.

He says the rath was first documented in 1835.

"It's quite important with regard to history and archaeology," he points out.

"I'm not against this," he stresses.

However: "I would like to see something that is built in keeping with the village; something that would blend in and complement what we already have."

He fears that if the development goes ahead in its present form it is going to make a "drastic change" to the appearance of that end of the village.

"There is at present no other housing development of this scale in the village of Tempo," he maintains.

"The rath which forms part of the site is an important heritage feature and landmark for Tempo - a small village. The local community wishes to see this protected and safeguarded," he insists.

"I would add that the people in Tempo value the rath and consider it as part of the village's heritage and identity. This is too important a feature to be lost or absorbed in a large housing scheme or, as proposed, form part of an open space area for housing," he adds.

"The heritage site needs to be fenced off and maintained, otherwise it will become an area for young people to congregate and then issues arise in terms of anti-social behaviour, littering, etc.," says Mr. Sheridan.

"With regard to the scheme submitted, a bridge connects the rath to the proposed houses - this is totally unacceptable," he adds.

"A good quality design scheme, enhancing the existing distinctive character, archaeological and other landscape features, needs to be put in place in respect of this particular site," he maintains.

"The people of Tempo are proud of the village and its heritage and any new development on the site in question needs to be tastefully and suitably designed to respect that," states Mr. Sheridan.