Eleventh-hour appeals to save Tara

Poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney has described the M3 motorway as a ruthless desecration of the sacred landscape around the Hill of Tara, the ancient and unexcavated capital of Ireland.

In the same programme, Dr Jonathan Foyle, British chief executive of the World Monuments Fund, which placed Tara on its endangered sites list last year, likened the motorway to the destruction by Afghanistan’s Taliban regime in 2001 of the Bamiyan Buddhas.

Diggers and chainsaws are currently in operation on an unexcavated medieval souterrain at Lismullen Woods near the Lismullin Henge, close to the Hill of Tara. This is one of a possible six underground stone structures within 150 metres of the Lismullen Henge monument, which was handed over to the contractors for destruction in late 2007.

Activists have called for more protestors, archaeologists, and media coverage at the site.

In and interview with BBC reporter Diarmaid Fleming, Prof Heaney said the motorway “literally desecrates an area - I mean the word means to desacralise’ and, for centuries, the Tara landscape and the Tara sites have been regarded as part of the sacred ground”.

Referring to the 1916 Proclamation having summoned the Irish people “in the name of the dead generations”, he said: “If ever there was a place that deserved to be preserved in the name of the dead generations from pre-historic times . . . it was Tara”.

Prof Heaney added: “I suppose Tara means something equivalent to me to what Delphi means to the Greeks or maybe Stonehenge to an English person or Nara in Japan . . .It conjures up what they call in Irish duchas, a sense of belonging a sense of patrimony, a sense of an ideal.

“The traces on Tara are in the grass, in the earth. They aren’t spectacular like temple ruins in Greece but they are about origin, they’re about beginning, they’re about the mythological, spiritual source - something that gives the country its distinctive spirit.”

He recalled that WB Yeats, George Moore and Arthur Griffith had written a letter to The Irish Times complaining that the British Israelites, who thought the Ark of the Covenant was buried at Tara, were desecrating a “consecrated landscape” by digging there.

“So, I thought to myself, if a few holes in the ground made by amateur archaeologists was a desecration, what’s happening to that whole countryside being ripped up [for the M3] is certainly a much more ruthless piece of work,” Prof Heaney said.

According to Dr Foyle, the entire Tara complex “is the equivalent of Stonehenge, Westminster Abbey for its royal associations and Canterbury for its Christian associations all rolled into one” yet it was being destroyed “to shave 20 minutes off a journey time.

Sinn Féin TD Aengus O Snodaigh has called on the Government to halt the continuing destruction of national monuments on the Tara site.

Speaking in the Dublin parliament, O Snodaigh made an eleventh hour appeal to the Government to consider re-routing the M3 to avoid the devastation of our national heritage.

He said, “There is an urgent need for the government to halt the continuing destruction of national monuments on the Tara site, the need for works to stop until a new assessment of the full potential damage to the monuments is conducted.”

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