A decision by 26-County Environment Minister John Gormley to place a preservation order on an ancient fort has been hailed as a potential breakthrough in the campaign to save the historic Tara Valley from a motorway development.
Rath Lugh, a defensive outpost of the ancient Irish capital, has received a temporary reprieve from potential destruction. The fortress faced collapse by construction work for the proposed route of the M3.
Activists had warned of the impending danger to the Rath in January when heavy machinery was used to fell trees in the area between the Lismullin monument and Rath Lugh - before the motorway developers discovered that there was a national monument at Lismullin.
“This development shows that the claims of those opposed to this route were correct,” said the Save Tara campaign. “There should never have been an attempt to drive a motorway through this incredibly sensitive archaeological area - Tara’s landscape.”
Vincent Salafia, of Tara Watch, said the order to protect Rath Lugh “indicates a major shift in policy by the Minister, who has claimed that no sites are being improperly interfered with, and that he has not power to act” in relation to the M3.
Originally, Dublin officials maintained that the road would be 100 metres away from the Rath but recent surveys and work done by the NRA [ National Roads Authority] show that it will be within 20 metres - posing a serious threat to the stability of the monument and the underlying esker.
“They were cutting further and further into it,” according to Dr Muireann Ni Bhrolchain, of the Campaign to Save Tara.
She noted that Rath Lugh is owned by Coillte Teoranta, the State forestry company. “It was up to them to intervene at the planning stage, but they didn’t. At that stage, however, the motorway was to be constructed 100 metres away from the site.
“With climate change a frightening reality, it is madness to persist in building motorways instead of public transport”.
In making the temporary order, which could become permanent, Gormley claimed he was “erring on the side of caution. It was not a ‘U-turn’, as some have claimed, but consistent with my approach since taking office.”
Support for the Campaign continues to grow. Last week, 1,500 people gathered to form a huge human harp on Tara for the international artist, John Quigley, while related events took place in the US and Britain. The harp, the official national symbol of Ireland, is derived from the ancient gathering of harpers at ceremonial events in Tara.
The World Monuments Fund, who placed the Hill of Tara archaeological complex on the 100 Most Endangered Sites Listin June, expressed concern last week that the work “is now entering a destructive phase”.
The organisation has described the Tara valley as a “two thousand-year old time casket”.
“It would be a huge loss to the world if Tara’s surrounding landscape, about which we have much to learn, is destroyed for a highway development that will only encourage more rapid and inappropriate development,” said Bonnie Burnham, president of the World Monuments Fund.
“We are horrified at the prospect of a radical alteration of such an important site and call upon the authorities to reconsider their decision.”