Did the NRA alter archaeological data to help get the M3 Tara motorway built?

Tarawatch have issued a press release (through their site and their Facebook/Myspace pages) which picks up on a cited article from Ireland’s Mail on Sunday. The article states that archaeologist Jo Ronayne is claiming that the data in her reports was changed to make it look as though her work was supporting the construction of the controversial Tara road building scheme, when her evidence actually did quite the contrary.

‘Miss Ronayne, who was an excavation director at the Tara valley site in Co. Meath, claims she was told to ‘change interpretations’ so as to ‘lessen to potential of numbers of sites’. And she says she was excluded from NRA [National Road Association] meetings in which her evidence was altered before reports were passed on to the Government. The damning allegations will shatter the Governments defence that it would not change the Tara route because there is no significant archaeological site on it. And it will lead to disturbing questions about whether ministers – and in turn the public or even the courts – were misled about the archaeological finds.’


Of course this isn’t the first time in recent years that questions have arisen as to the professionalism of the NRA, their advice to government and the validity of their assertions.
In 2004, Frank McDonald of The Irish Times reported that as far back as 2000, an NRA report made it clear that the proposed route of the Tara motorway would bring the works within distance of the most ‘sensitive’ archaeological area and that another route should be chosen. The NRA then chose to ignore the advice of it’s own consultants.
Furthermore, The Irish Times (again through McDonald) reported that ‘Brian Duffy, chief archaeologist of the Department of the Environment, was appointed to his post even though he has only a general BA degree in archaeology and no track record of archaeological excavations or publications’ and that he was chosen over a field of considerably more qualified candidates. Which begs the question – why?
This by the way, is the same Brian Duffy who, in July 2007, disputed the assertion of Dr. Patrick Wallace (Director of the National Museum of Ireland) that a site near Tara which was filled in the middle of the night, was one of “national importance”. Which is baffling. If it wasn’t of any importance, why was it filled in at four in the morning? And what in the name of all that is holy is someone with a BA doing telling the man who excavated all of Wood Quay and Viking Dublin what is and what is not a feature worthy of study and preservation?


Looking forward things don’t seem much better. Maggie Ronayne, from the Archaeology department at NUI Galway recently posted an article to Indymedia, making it clear that the upcoming 6th World Archaeological Conference (being held in Ireland) has effectively refused to debate the increased privatisation of archaeology within Ireland – whereby the excavation, preservation and curation of the nation’s material heritage is increasingly been take away from state-appointed organisations and farmed out to private organisations whose primary goal is the acquisition of profit; a goal which is fundamentally at odds with the priorirties of those who have devoted their lives to saving our nation’s herirtage.
Several years ago an archaeologist friend claimed to me that the systematic deconstruction of Duchas (the old Irish state Heritage service) was designed to facilitate just this shift – ensuring that those irritating archaeologists stopped getting in the way of national development and progress. Reading these stories, I can’t help but think she was right.



Damien DeBarra was born in the late 20th century and grew up in Dublin, Ireland. He now lives in London, England where he shares a house with four laptops, three bikes and a large collection of chairs.

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