In March 2006 the environmental and heritage campaigner Vincent Salafia lost his court case against the Irish government in trying to protect the landscape of Tara. In what was seen by many as a severe ruling, the presiding judge dismissed the case on all counts and ruled that Mr. Salafia would have to pay all legal costs. The ruling will be appealed to the supreme court. The case is pending.
Meanwhile the National Roads Authority and their archeologists are continuing to ‘excavate’ the ancient Tara landscape, using mechanical diggers. No date is yet in sight for the beginning of road construction, due to the legal delays.
It is important to reiterate that those who work to protect Tara are not opposed to a motorway per se. Other routes have always been available and were even recommended by the government’s own experts right from the beginning. For whatever reason, the motorway route that was insisted upon (the route will have a double toll) was the one that would have the maximum impact on the Tara landscape. Yet this is a situation where a happy compromise is still possible – the motorway could be rerouted and built away from the Tara landscape, along one of the other feasible routes, thereby preserving this unique cultural and spiritual area. However to date, all arguments to the Irish government on Tara’s behalf have fallen on deaf ears.
For those who understand the beauty and importance of Tara, and who wish to ensure that this ancient landscape remains safe, it is vital to keep putting pressure on the Irish government, especially for those outside of Ireland. Ireland’s ‘green cultural’ image is at the centre of its tourist industry, yet that green unspoiled image is no longer the reality. Although the national icons which originate from Tara itself, the harp and the shamrock, are still displayed as the national insignia, the magical landscape from which they originate is set to be destroyed.
Please do whatever you can to publicise this issue. You could phone or write to your local Irish embassy to register your complaint, and/or write a letter to a newspaper raising the issue. It is also important to write directly to the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Mr. Ahern, strongly voicing your objections. He can be contacted at:
An Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, St. Luke’s, 161 Lower Drumcondra Road, Dublin 9, Ireland.
Or alternatively at,
An Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, Department of the Taoiseach, Government Buildings, Merrion Street, Dublin 2, Ireland.
Many thanks for your help on Tara’s behalf.
Tuesday May 30, 2006
Guardian Owen Bowcott, Ireland correspondent
Land of High Kings is battlefield for fight between heritage and growth
Protests over plan to route four-lane motorway through historic sites
The panoramic view from the Hill of Tara reputedly encompasses half the counties of Ireland. Windswept, grass ramparts enclose the ancient seat of the country’s High Kings. Nearby stands the Mound of the Hostages, a megalithic passage tomb. Soon a four-lane motorway, speeding traffic in and out of Dublin, will bulldoze its way through the landscape below the Iron Age earthworks. The first scars are already visible as archaeologists investigate the lush Gowra valley for the remains of a civilisation whose monuments pre-date many Egyptian pyramids. Unless survey teams uncover a new site of “national archaeological importance”, the controversial, government-backed route through County Meath is likely to go ahead.
The row over construction of the M3 has set Ireland’s marginalised, heritage lobby at odds with the republic’s newfound prosperity and the drive to upgrade its outdated infrastructure. It has also highlighted Ireland’s increasing reliance on the car.
The row is now entering a more embittered phase. Construction of the 36-mile road, connecting Clonee, on Dublin’s congested outskirts, to Kells, north-west of the capital, was scheduled to begin early this month. The national roads authority (NRA) is blaming legal action by environmental protesters for delays costing €1m (£680,000) a week and for the number of fatal car crashes attributable to the unmodernised road.
No date has yet been set for an appeal to the supreme court over the disputed route, and the NRA has cautioned its preferred tenderer, the Eurolink consortium, not to start work until court proceedings are completed. If the case goes to Europe, it could take years.
Vincent Salafia, a Dublin lawyer fighting the Tara M3 case, denied his action had caused delays. He said he could be amenable to “mediation” if “an independent archaeological expert [was] appointed to determine whether the M3 passes through the greater national monument of Tara [or] if any of the 38 sites [already unearthed constitute] national monuments in their own right”. He lost his case in the high court.
“The government is saying the Tara monument is just the tip of the hill,” he told the Guardian. “But there are outer defensive forts which are all part of a large, single [complex]. We want to force [the road] to move further away. A route further out to the west would be better.”
The issue has rocketed up the domestic political agenda as the economy has boomed and Dublin’s commuter belt has expanded far out into the Irish midlands. Tara is barely 30 miles from the capital but car journeys can take several hours at peak traffic times.
Ireland has not experienced direct action protests against road building but the campaign has attracted celebrity support, notably from the Hollywood actress Charlize Theron and her Irish partner, Stuart Townsend.
Muireann Ni Bhrolochain, a university lecturer in Celtic studies at Maynooth, is one of the leading opponents. “Tara is one of the premier sites in Europe,” she said. “Some of the tombs date back 4,000 years and the hill was used by the High Kings of all Ireland until 1200AD. I’m not anti-roads but we have the opportunity to learn from mistakes in other countries,” she said.
Given the success of single issue candidates in Ireland’s proportional representation system, there has been talk of an anti-M3 candidate at the general election anticipated next year. Several opposition parties, including Sinn Féin and the Green party, have backed the campaign. The Labour party’s environment spokesman, Eamon Gilmore, described the route as a “betrayal of the country’s Celtic heritage that will result in the destruction of the Tara landscape”.
Many question why the existing freight railway line, from nearby Navan via Drogheda to Dublin, has not been improved to relieve congestion.
“The government said it would take until 2015 to [rebuild] the direct line from Navan to Dublin [closed in the 1960s],” said a local campaigner, Proinsas MacFheargus. “But that railway was begun in 1859 and finished in 1862. So nowadays it would take three times as long to build? They won’t open up the line because it would conflict with the motorway’s tolling arrangements.”
Julitta Clancy, of the Meath Historical Society, did not join the legal action because the costs would have put her at risk of losing her home. “We went through the planning process and found it very frustrating,” she said. “There was no remedy. We tried to persuade the government that the road could be moved, producing a better transport and heritage solution. We have petitioned the European parliament on the rights of litigants to oppose infrastructure projects. The delays to the road are not due to us but to the fact that the route picked was rich in archaeology. These sites are part of our European collective memory. We have asked for independent monitoring of the excavations. At present if they find anything in the valley … it’s the NRA that decides whether it’s a national monument.”
The M3 will also slice through Dalgan Park, headquarters of the St Columban Missionaries in the Gowra valley. The estate’s woodland and riverside walks are open to the public.
“This road will be a violation of the sacredness and tranquility of the area,” said Father Pat Raleigh. “This was given in trust to us by the people of Ireland. People are not going to enjoy a greater quality of life commuting to Dublin.”
Last year 400 people died on the republic’s roads, about 100 deaths per million people. That rate is close to the European average. The litany of casualties, however, fills the daily papers. Last week the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, joined the controversy, complaining that protests meant that “not a thistle has yet been cut” on the motorway. In the meantime, he added, existing roads were still proving deadly. “Nine people have died in the past nine months.”
The oldest excavated monument is the Mound of the Hostages , constructed in 2500BC . Its name derives from Niall of the Nine Hostages , a king who held prisoners from every province of Ireland as well as from Britain and Europe. Legend has it that candidates for the high kingship had to drive their chariots towards two standing stones positioned close together which opened only for the rightful king. In historic times, Tara was the seat of power in Ireland; 142 High Kings reigned from the hilltop that was revered as a sacred place with a direct connection to the underworld. St Patrick visited the hill in 433AD to convert the pagan king. One interpretation of “Tara” says it means “place of great prospect”. An Israeli archaeological team excavated the hill in the 20th century , convinced the Arc of the Covenant was buried under the soil of County Meath.
The Irish government gave the final permission for a motorway to be built through the Tara landscape! The Minister for Environment and Heritage, Dick Roche, recently granted licenses for archaeological digging to begin along the planned motorway route, thereby giving the final permission necessary for the motorway to go ahead. Because Tara is an area so rich in archaeological sites, excavations could take up to two years. However an area of this importance should not be excavated as a mere preliminary to being fully cemented over. When the excavations are complete, the construction of the four-lane motorway is scheduled to begin.
The government’s decision is due to be challenged in the courts in Ireland. In terms of the destruction of priceless cultural treasures, a leading academic compared the behaviour of the Irish government to that of the Taliban.
On March 30th Dick Roche, the Irish government Minister for Heritage and the Environment, gave his approval for the M3 motorway to be built through the Tara landscape. However, after strong reaction from the Irish press, he has since toned down his statement, and it looks like there is a period of a few weeks where he will be gauging public opinion and the strength of the opposition to the motorway plans. Opposition has been increasing from all sides. It is vital to keep pressure on him now and to show the depth of protest to destroying the 5000 year old Tara landscape. Please write to him, even a few lines, protesting the decision to permit the motorway, and demand that he choose another motorway route instead. Tara must be kept safe. This is the last ‘window of opportunity’ before the procedures for building the motorway are set in motion. Please act now on Tara’s behalf and take the trouble to write a letter.
Address letters to:
The Minister for the Environment, and Heritage
Minister’s Department Telephone: 00353 1 888 2000 – A quick call won’t cost must, just to voice your protest.
Also, please keep signing our online petition, as it is the only way to show the level of international support for Tara. Thanks. The level of support so far has been incredible.
Below is the joint-letter organized by our campaign which was printed in The Irish Times on March 15th (and two other Irish newspapers) protesting the M3 motorway through the ancient grounds of Tara. The letter was signed by the presidents of 12 European-Irish cultural associations, from 9 European countries. The joint-letter is a powerful indicator of the depth of international protest to the planned destruction of the Tara landscape. Many thanks to all the associations who gave their support to protecting Tara.
The royal estate of Tara is Ireland’s premier national monument, encapsulating over 5,000 years of extraordinary history and mythology. The poet WB Yeats wrote: “Tara is, because of its associations, probably the most consecrated spot in Ireland.”
Both of the Irish national symbols, the harp and the shamrock, originate at Tara. These emblems have been promoted for decades throughout the world by the Irish Tourist Board to identify something unique about Ireland, and with great effect: Tara and its symbols have become readily recognisable motifs for Ireland and for what it is most prized internationally – its culture, rich history and beautiful landscape. Yet there are current plans to build a four-lane tolled motorway, the M3, at the foot of the Hill of Tara, with a major, floodlit, flyover-interchange only 1,200 meters from the summit.
Motorways are generic, and can be seen everywhere; the entire landscape of Tara is one of a kind, unique in the world. It is because of such culturally rich and naturally beautiful places as the Tara landscape that so many visitors come to Ireland and return again and again. To damage Tara is to damage Ireland’s tourist image and high international reputation.
The commuters of Co Meath need solutions to their traffic problems, but this is an instance where it is possible to satisfy local needs as well as taking account of the wider national and international perspective, for there are other routes available for this motorway and other transport options. Heritage and culture do not have to be sacrificed for development. Short-term need and long-term vision can be combined by rerouting the M3 toll-motorway away from the Tara-Skryne valley, perhaps along the route east of Skryne which was originally favoured by the Government’s own consultants, and remains the preferred option of all the Government’s heritage advisers. With distance the perspective always changes; and perhaps what is unclear in the detail of the debate in Ireland has greater clarity when viewed from abroad: a four-lane motorway through the Tara landscape will destroy the integrity and beauty of a priceless cultural treasure, which expert archaeologists, historians and Celticists state is a landscape not just of importance to Ireland but to the whole world.
It is ironic that St Patrick’s Day will be celebrated all over the globe, and the shamrock worn, in the same month as the Irish Government is set to decide the fate of the Tara landscape. Tara is the place where St Patrick first used the symbol of the three-leafed shamrock in his teachings to signify the Divine Trinity. To put a motorway through the grounds of royal Tara is to deface a national icon, akin to removing a leaf from the emblem of the shamrock. The landscape of Tara is indivisible and must remain entirely intact and undisturbed for the appreciation of not just the people of Ireland, but for all those around the world who cherish Ireland and its culture.
- Yours, etc.,
FIONNUALA DEVLIN, Spokesperson, Protect Tara International Campaign, Berlin, Germany;
STIOFAN O’FOGHLU, President, German-Irish Association, Rhine-Main, Germany;
FINOLA KEATING, President of the Geneva Irish Association, Switzerland;
MARY GAVIN, President, Irish Club Netherlands;
FRANK McLYNN, President, German-Irish Association, Bavaria, Germany;
ANN DOUGLAS, President, Irish Club of Belgium;
MARKUS COLLIN, Chairman, Finnish Irish Society, Finland;
ORESTE PERNA, Vice-President, Italian-Irish Intercultural Association;
ROBERT SCOTT-MARTIN, Chairman, Celtic and Irish Cultural Society, England;
NOEL PURCELL, President, Rhine Valley Irish Association, France;
JUERGEN GOTTSCHALK, President, German-Irish Association, Wuerzburg, Germany;
KARL BUXMANN, President, Friedberg Society for the Promotion of German-Irish Understanding, Germany.
- Phyllis Frauenberger, Vice-President, Austro-Irish Association, Austria;
(The Austrian-Irish Association signed slightly after the send-deadline, so their name didn’t appear in The Irish Times letter)
On Tuesday March 29th a joint-statement was released by the Save Tara campaign in Ireland signed by 85 eminent academics from all round the world. Tara is an international issue and of international importance. Please also do what you can, write a letter in the next weeks from wherever you are in the world to protest the destruction of this priceless piece of ancient culture. Thanks.
We now have over 6000 signatures on the petition. Thanks to everyone who signed and please help keep spreading the word.
The following articles appeared this month in the Irish Times:
“INTERNET CAMPAIGN: more than 2,000 pro-Tara signatures”
The Irish Times , Thursday 9 December 04
By Derek Scally, in Berlin
The campaign to stop the construction of the M3 through Tara has gone online with an Internet petition attracting over 2,000 “signatures” in two weeks. The website www.protect-tara.org was created by Dublin woman Fionnuala Devlin (38), who has been living in Berlin for four years. She has the support of the Rhein-Main German-Irish Association in Frankfurt. Ms Devlin launched the Internet campaign after learning of the planned motorway during a trip to Tara in May.
“I was surprised when I started research that there is no compelling reason for the motorway to go through Tara,” she said. “It seems to me that this is not clear to people. The debate is so detailed that people don’t realise that (the M3) is going to go through Tara.” The website brings together the history and legend of Tara as well as the history of the proposed motorway development. Visitors to the website are urged to write to the Taoiseach or to electronically sign the linked petition. By yesterday afternoon the petition had attracted 2,278 signatures, mostly from outside Ireland in the US and Germany.
“Tara IS the soul of Ireland – don’t squander it!” said one American visitor to the website.
An outraged German wrote: “The pre-Christian cultures and nature religions have suffered enough.”
Another German implored: “Do not rape your green island with grey streets.”
A surprising number of signatories to the petition come from Estonia, which has been experiencing its own burst of motorway building through heritage sites.
Ms. Devlin says the main reaction of most Germans she knows has been shock. “People really emotionally connect to Ireland. The image Bord Fáilte has been presenting abroad so diligently all these years could almost be summed up in Tara, so there’s shock that the Irish Government is spending more money to destroy that, with the help of EU funds.”
© The Irish Times