Republican News · Thursday 15 June 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Maybe the wrong road...


As Westmeath County Council prepares to destroy a historic ringfort near Mullingar, one family is preparing to defend it, and wondering why there was ever a need to threaten the monument in the first place.

`They're going to build a motorway through my back garden,

No-one can explain why I came to be chosen...'

So runs the chorus of a `70s folk song protesting the ruthless way that progress ploughs through our lives, our homes and our properties. Roads, apparently, are the true indicator of development: the more we develop, the more roads we need; the more roads we have, the more we can develop. But at a cost.

Six or eight miles from Mullingar, in the townland of Tudenham, sitting right beside the Rochefort Demesne, the Belvedere Estate and the Tallyho Stud, is the Kelly farm. The Kelly family moved to this area 35 years ago after exchanging a fragmented holding near Tuam for 55 acres in Westmeath. They were happy to move; it brought them back to near the place where, seven generations earlier, the family had lived before being driven west, `To Hell or to Connaught', by Cromwell. They were happy, too, with the land, and William and Mary raised a family of nine, clearing the fields of stones and ragwort and developing their farm through hard work and perseverance.

Three hundred yards from their house, on a raised mound in the centre of the nearest field, stood a ringfort. The fort measured 45 meters across, and they were very proud to have become the custodians of such a visible part of our heritage, one of the largest ringforts in the county.

The Kellys could feel changes coming. Better roads, more traffic, the rundown Belvedere House and gardens refurbished at a cost of nearly 5 million, the growth in tourism, golfers and the Tallyho set... their local road was bound, in time, to be upgraded.

A few months ago, a map proposing road re-alignment was circulated and placed on public display. Three options were being mooted, with coloured arrows like war plans sweeping towards their house to mark where the new road would pass. Like other interested parties they looked, debated and noted that the road might clip an odd green of the golf course, trim the edge of the Belvedere park, or snip a border from the Tallyho stud - depending on which option would be chosen. The Kelly's small farm and ringfort would be bypassed.

As the consultation period ended, however, a mysterious new, fourth option suddenly appeared and the other three vanished. The road would now rip through their farm, a 43-metre-wide cut, swerving past the golf course, narrowly avoiding the gates of Belvedere, lurching to the right of the existing road to miss the Tallyho farm and careering, all 43 metres of it, through the centre of the ringfort and on towards a curve taking it back towards the originally conceived route of the new road.

The Kellys were stunned.

Their 55-acre farm would be reduced to 30 acres, with half of the meadow on one side of the carriageway and the rest on the other. Thirty five years after moving from a fragmented smallholding, progress was going to fragment their new holding. Thousands of years after the construction of the ringfort, Westmeath County Council were about to bulldoze it to oblivion, wiping out another relic from our past, all in the name of progress.

The Kellys are infuriated.

If it is a long road with no turning, this short stretch of road more than compensates. It deftly turns and wends its way past, it appears, the powerful interests of the golf club, the Estate and the stud farm and levels and destroys the farm of those with no voice, no vested interest, no brown envelopes to facilitate their demands.

They want to know why the road has been deflected onto their farm. They want to know why their county council is hellbent on erasing the ringfort. They want to know why there is a need to swing in through their farm and ironically miss the straight section of the existing road. They want to know why golf clubs, country estates and stud farms are immune from the JCB while an historic site and a small farm are laid waste.

William Kelly is shattered at the turn of events, but is determined to prevent this criminal destruction of that section of Ireland's heritage he has been privileged to own for the past three and a half decades.

Seven generations ago, his ancestors were told to go to Hell or Connaught. They went, they survived and they returned. They are resilient people. Westmeath County Council might well be in for a troublesome time ahead as the Kellys defend their fort.

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