The controversial excavation and demolition of a newly-uncovered national monument at Lismullin in the Tara Valley began yesterday after conservationists were threatened with a potentially violent Garda police arrest operation.

The Lismullin henge is an important ceremonial site in the path of a bitterly contested new motorway through the unexcavated Tara complex, the ancient capital of the Irish high kings.

Fifteen demonstrators yesterday formed a human chain which blocked the only access road into the site. They prevented workers going on site for 45 minutes yesterday morning, but were moved on after being threatened with a Garda capture and arrest operation.

The demolition of the Lismullin henge was given the go-ahead last Thursday by Minister for the Environment John Gormley’s Lismullin advisory committee.

The semicircular enclosure, which has a diameter of about 80m, dates from between 380 BC and 520 BC and is thought to have been some kind of ceremonial site.

Initial excavations of the site also revealed a ring ditch, which is a prehistoric burial site, a souterrain, which carried water, and corn-drying kilns dotted around it.

Campaigner John Farrelly said a large number of people showed up this morning to protest against the vandalism that is continuing at Tara.

“When the Gardai arrived at the site, a decision was made to end the stand-off as we did not want anybody to be injured,” he said.

The TaraWatch campaign group has begun legal efforts to force Mr Gormley, the National Roads Authority, the local county council and the Attorney General to stop the demolition work.

TaraWatch -- which last month handed a petition with 50,000 signatures opposing the plans to the government -- says the National Monuments Act 2004 is contrary to European law because it does not require a new environmental impact assessment following the discovery of the Lismullin site.

Laura Grealish, of TaraWatch, said the Lismullen site is of huge significance.

“The European Commission has made it clear that its demolition is illegal,” she said.

“Today’s demonstration has once again highlighted the disgust that people feel over Minister Gormley’s handling of this matter. We have solicitors’ letters prepared to send to the authorities, and hope that excavations will be halted imminently.”

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© 2007 Irish Republican News