There was a dramatic escalation of tension this week at the Tara heritage site in County Meath where hundreds of construction workers and Garda police attacked a growing protest determined to save a national monument from destruction.

A female protester who chained herself to a tunnel has faced down the imminent destruction of Rath Lugh by bulldozers seeking to clear the route for a new motorway.

Rath Lugh, an ancient fort beside the 2,000-year-old Hill of Tara, is the subject of a preservation order. A key element of the cityscape of Ireland’s legendary capital, it is constructed on a potentially unstable gravel ridge. The geographical feature, known as an esker, has already been illegally damaged by construction work, threatening to collapse the fort.

The current road plans intend to pave over at least one of the holy wells of Rath Lugh, and pave over or bulldoze into the tombs contained within. Some believe the tombs may hold the graves of the dead Fianna of Celtic legend.

The workers and gardaí arrived at Rath Lugh at about 7am Thursday [yesterday] morning and began evicting protesters from the path of the motorway as workers tore down a temporary fort built into the side of the esker. The demolition work was delayed by 10 protesters who had chained themselves to rocks, metal cylinders and a 44-gallon drum that was dug and concreted into the hillside. Other protesters supplied their locked-in comrades with cigarettes and hot drinks.

Protestors said the Gardaí were “vicious”. Three people were arrested, two of them violently dragged down the unstable esker.

Last week protestor Lisa Feeney barricaded herself inside a chamber built at the bottom of a 33ft tunnel. She is understood to be chained to a car jack which is supporting the roof of the tunnel above her head.

There had been fears the Gardai would attempt to pull Feeney out, collapsing the tunnel. It was also feared the Gardai would cut off the power and, hence, the air supply to the young activist.

“Murderers,” shouted one protester. “You are putting the life of a girl at risk.”

Phillip Cantwell, an independent councillor with Trim town council, shouted that gardaí were assisting with an “illegal act” as Rath Lugh was a protected national monument. He said the motorway builders did not have the necessary approval to remove the protesters and begin work on Rath Lugh.

The tension eased after Meath County Council fire officers refused to enter the tunnel to try to bring her to the surface after concluding that attempting a forcible entry would pose a threat to Ms Feeney’s life.

As the stand-off developed, five more protestors cemented their arms to a makeshift fence protecting the fort.

Other tunnels have also been dug in secret by the ‘Tara Pixie’ group, a peaceful, direct action campaign to save Tara. They have stocked the tunnels with food and supplies, and are understood to be digging in for at least a three month stay.

“It’s taken six months to build them,” said Feeney. “We’ve built them with lump hammers, buckets and a string system. It’s a labyrinth - a lot of the work was done by night over the last couple of months.

“Security hasn’t really noticed because we’ve been bringing out bags of sand and dumping it nearby. Real Shawshank Redemption stuff.”

The situation has been described as dangerous and chaotic, and activists have sent out urgent messages for support, including the presence of observers, journalists and photographers.

The Camp has also called for mobiles, car phone chargers, flasks, batteries, rain-proof clothing, chains and locks.

The mailing address is:

Tara Solidarity Vigil
PO Box 30,
Co. Meath, Ireland

Messages of support can be texted to +353-86-175-8557.

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© 2008 Irish Republican News