Archaeologist of the damned and guest writer ender, gives us the lowdown on what’s really happening up at the hill of Tara…
Regardless of the pros and cons of the situation, this decision means both sides lose.
Legal objections are going to tie up progress for years to come. (In Ireland, and then, failing that…the European courts). Plus the added huge expense (on top of building it in the first place!) of contracting out the significant excavation work, entailing significant numbers of archaeologists, to eventually excavate the route. We know through geophysical survey, that there are at least 26 ‘sites’ of archaeological interest along the contentious part of the proposed route. (14.5km section from Dunshaughlin to Cannistown.)
And that’s without lifting one sod of earth. Whenever they do, you can conservatively bank on doubling that number. Each new ‘site’ prolongs the time, effort, and finances of the whole project. This would be after the prolonged and extended period of legal wrangling.
In short…it’s years before the residents of the area get their road. Which is badly needed. Along with a dedicated rail link.
A second point on the ‘sites’. A lot of people bandy about the number of them. Myself included. A site can be as small as a fulacht fia (Hole in the ground) or as big as a ringfort (40-50 metre diameter). But they’re not just individual sites. Each one is part of the larger picture of the whole surrounding landscape. I think people are genuinely confused on this issue.
You hear NRA spokesmen repeating the mantra of the road not being visible from Tara. That’s not the point. Tara is not just a hill with a few earthworks on top. It’s the whole Tara-Skryne valley that we’re talking about. You put a motorway through it, and it destroys the very integrity of the wider landscape, which encompasses ALL the sites (Known and Unknown) and they’re relationship which each other, throughout all the ages.
Anyone who’s been to Tara, or Knowth/Dowth passage grave complex, or Newgrange in the Boyne Valley…will know that all these monuments are not stand alone items. They are a sum of their parts, stretching out widely into the surrounding hinterland. It’s their development and progression through different times and ages, from different peoples with different material cultures that interest us and enrich our heritage as a people and nation. It’s value lies in WHERE it lies. Why it was put there. How it was put there.
The reason and motivation behind their location. Not digging it up and putting it in a glass case in Kildare Street. I defy anyone to go into the National Museum (It’s free!) and turn left inside the main entrance; take a look at the “Reconstructed” Megalithic Tomb display that’s made up from dozens of different slabs from all around the country; and not feel a little saddened by the fact that each piece is the remains of a destroyed monument, dug up or moved for whatever reason was felt necessary.
The ironic thing is, it is only since the mid nineties that we have seriously started to investigate Tara. (Following decades of successive government policies of ‘Non Interference due to Significance’. The Discovery Programme has instigated a series of investigations that have completely revolutionised our understanding of the whole area. For instance, Conor Newman has uncovered (Through Non Intrusive Geophysical Survey again) a huge ‘Henge’ type circular earthwork that surrounds the entire hill and yet is completely invisible on the surface.
If something that big can remain undetected, what are the chances of uncovering something similar along the route way? As it is, we stand a very good chance of chancing upon something else, and being forced to excavate it without knowing it’s significance and relationship to the rest of the landscape.) Remember, archaeology isn’t about excavation.
It’s got very little to do with Time Team. Excavation is ‘controlled destruction through detailed recording’, as any archaeologist will tell you. The last people who want to dig things up, are archaeologists.
Thirdly, the interchange is perhaps the most important point to worry about. It’s going to be the size of, if not bigger then the Red Cow. And that’s all they want to build. For now. Do they seriously think that that amount of traffic going through that interchange every day is not going to attract further development?
What about a petrol station?
No sorry, it’s an archaeologically sensitive area. We can’t.
But it’s needed.
No sorry we can’t.
But you built the road? The Minister waived it. Why can’t we waive this? It’s ONLY another few sq. metres.
Oh All right then.
Followed by the hotel. And while we’re at it…look at all the space for a retail park? All of them, following one after another, because the Government set a precedent. And why not? It’s all infra structure and progress for the area. What’s the point in having such a road without them? And having given in once, who would be willing to bet that private enterprise wouldn’t fight just as long and hard to enable planning, as heritage interests did to try to prevent it?
THAT’S the biggest reason why Archaeologists don’t want the route to go where it’s planned. It’s not about road. It’s the rest of it that follows that will disrupt and destroy the landscape forever.
What can we do about it. Sweet F.A. really. Our T.D.’s passed a Heritage Bill last year that finally revoked any and all accountability to the public. The Minister of the day is ultimately responsible. All he has to do by law is listen to the people who actually know what they’re talking about. But he’s not bound by any of it. Carrickmines embarrassed a lot of rich and powerful people and put a lot of developers into the red.
Developers =economic power=votes in this country, as we all know. The government’s heritage bill was designed to ensure that another Carrickmines would not take place. Couple that with the total devolution of heritage responsibility among government departments and organisations following the dissolution of Duchas, who were seen as becoming too powerful with regard to planning authorities. Now if you want to get something done of a heritage nature you have to find out who is supposed to be responsible.
Dept of Arts, Culture, Gaelteacht, Heritage and the Islands?…No that what it used to be…now it’s the Dept. of Environment, Heritage and Local Government…except if something happens to be on an island, in which case it’s the Dept. of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources…hang on if it’s in the countryside then it’s probably the Dept. of Community, Rural and Gaelteacht affairs…unless you want people to go visit it…in which case you better go to the Dept. of Arts, Sports and Tourism… or possibly the Office of Public Works which maintains some sites but not all of them, some of them are under the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which used to be called Duchas by the way…
And then there’s An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, as well as the Heritage Council, which is a statutory semi-state body that proposes policy and priorities…but has nothing to do with the actual Minister for Heritage, (Environment & Local Government)…and lets not even go into the whole Bord Pleannala Pandora’s box.
Altogether, in 2005, there is no clear centralised authority on anything. Which suits certain industry sectors just fine.
There are only 600-700 archaeologists working a professionally at any one time, according to the last statistics in 2003: Reports on The Future Demand for Archaeologists in Ireland and a Profile of the Archaeological Profession and Education Resources in Ireland. (December 2003)
Personally, I think if all the archaeologists in this country were to refuse to dig, then the Government would be forced to actually do something rather then make grandiose promises that can’t be kept to pissed off residents during Bye-elections. It would force their heads out of their asses, while making us the laughing stock of Europe. What could the Government do? Bring in Polish archaeologists? English? American?
But that’s asking a lot of archaeologists. It’s not a well paying job. And the work in Tara is going to feed and clothe a lot of archaeologist’s kids.
It’s a mess. Just another typical Irish mess. That’s going to cost us all dearly. In our pockets and in our souls.
The cheapest and quickest way to build this road is to reroute the contentious part of it. It’s that simple. The road is needed now. Along with a rail network. Oh and a hospital would be nice too. And hospital beds. And nurses. And a million other things the money could be much better spent on in our name.
There’s also another approach. If society deems our archaeological heritage unworthy of protest; if road infrastructure is more important to government and people; then so be it. Start the road tomorrow. Transport the contents of kildare street to use as foundation while we’re at it. Sell it all off and buy some new Mercedes to drive along it.
There is no point in trying to understand, preserve and celebrate the past, if it has no spiritual or realistic meaning to the present.
Send a letter to Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern »
Find out more:
The NRA, The M3 and Archaeology
Tara and the M3: Putting the debate in context
The Impact of the Proposed M3 Motorway on Tara and its Cultural Landscape by Edel Bhreathnach, Conor Newman, Joseph Fenwick
The Geophysical Survey of the ‘preferred route’
Tara: a line in the sand :Conor NewmanJoe fenwick, Edel Bhreathnach
National Museum of Ireland
A queasy sick feeling rolled over me while I was reading about the events outlined in this excellent article. I wanted to give voice to my horror, but was uneasy about commenting on modern Irish circumstance. I thought about it all night…
Perhaps my veneration of Ireland as an American of Irish descent caused the sea sick despair. Perhaps it was the pagan scholar in me revolted by the desecration and erasure of a sacred landscape. My mind turned over the dilemma of modern convenience, of being an outsider to the daily life of the place in question, and finally settled on the raw nerve exposed here:
“There is no point in trying to understand, preserve and celebrate the past, if it has no spiritual or realistic meaning to the present.”
My kin made ‘Rawhead Rex’ jokes trying to ward off the bone chilling possibility of the loss of sacred landscape around Tara. As if the folly of human hubris would awaken some long slumbering Doom to rebalance the scales and inadvertently smack some sense into us. I fear it may be too late and the Apocalypse of Meaning is already at hand….
Well, given the choice between Sterility of the Human Soul, resulting in a fully paved commercially viable New World, and a B movie Daemon, I have to say:
“GO RAWHEAD! GO!”
Ah, Rawhead Rex. The only horror film in which Glenroe actors get slaughtered.
right. i want a copy of that movie. where can i obtain one?
I’ve seen it in laser video I think. Right next to
‘Raw Heidi’, ‘Red Riding Head Rex’, and Raw Redhead’s 3:Ripped and Roaring.
I suggest ebay, its a stinker of a flick to have to pay full price for.
I checked and there is one for sale in the UK for 4.40 including shipping (PAL version)
However while I was looking I spotted some kick ass figures of da Raw One, and may have to buy one for me Dad’s cabinet of curiousities.
Fair play damien for your straight commentary on the behind the scenes goings on.
The Irish Times today (23rd May) show up Brian Duffy chief archaeologist dept. heritage and environment and it’s about time he got his comeuppance. His precious job obviously means more to him than saving Tara and well he has no respect from his collleagues and now hopefully a lot more archaeologists since the crux of his report has been published by the Irish Times.
Well done Frank McDonald and Pat Wallace.
thanks for your comment – albeit i should add that credit for this piece goes to our friend ender (who wrote it).
and i second the notion of kudos to Dr. Wallace (I was lucky enough to work for the man for a few years) who is, as always, ferociously passionate about the protection of our heritage. Sadly, due to the deconstruction of Duchas (Carrickmines has a lot to answer for) those who would oppose this outrageous destruction of our archaeology have been rendered rather toothless. The National Monuments Act still provides some cover, but not much in the face of concerted government mendacity and the greed of the road developers (who I am quite sure are not donors to the Government parties).
We’ll be watching this space closely.
Hey Damien, Thanks for the great article. If anyone wants to keep up with the campaign, you can join our mailing list at http://www.tarawatch.org
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