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Let’s start with an archaeologist. Charles Mount took the opportunity of last week’s Day of Archaeology to provide an insight into the state of Irish Archaeology in a contribution titled “Picking up the pieces”. He says the end of the Celtic Tiger boom has meant that

Irish archaeology has been blighted by economic failure, imposed austerity and the failure of the commercial archaeology model. Those of us who are left are trying to pick up the pieces, but the loss of collective knowledge and experience will never be made good. Many excavation archives generated during the boom years now sit in store rooms with no one now to write them up and bring them to publication”. Data from many sites “may never see the light of day”.

And now the politician. Mr Mount’s account reminded us of our article in June 2009 about Mr. John Gormley, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. He was once the author of The Green Guide For Ireland but was also the man who presided over the building of the M3 at Tara and who refused to prevent the destruction of the newly discovered National Monument at Lismullin. When launching three Codes of Archaeological Practice he made this amazing false claim that seems to underly a lot of government posturing on both sides of the sea:

“development and conservation can go hand in hand”.

He never explained how, and no wonder. Anyway, he is out of politics now and archaeologists like Mr Mount have been left with the reality and to pick up the pieces.

A letter from the Tara Skryne Preservation Group;

To whom it concerns,

The Tara Skryne Preservation Group would like to register our deep distress at recent radio and newspaper reports of local Meath Co. Councillors rallying against the implementation of the Tara Skryne Landscape Conservation Area Plan. A campaign of scaremongering and misinformation is being perpetrated by FF, FG and Independent councillors through which allegations of land sterilisation, eviction and non provision for Planning of one off housing has been instigated. The Draft Plan is to go before the Council on 5th July 2010 for voting.

Several Meath Councillors including Shane Mc Entee TD FG , Mary Wallace TD FF and Nick Killian FF are, in our opinion, misrepresenting the facts which can be seen clearly outlined in the Tara Skryne Landscape Conservation Area Plan on Meath County Council’s website. The Plan contains more than adequate reassurances on these very same issues.

This is scandalous and reprehensible behaviour unbecoming of elected representatives who are supposed to be working for the good of the community. Instead of informing and educating locals whose fears over the implementation of the Plan are intensifying, they have been encouraging opposition to it with misinformation, inaccuracies and innuendo at a series of meetings in Tara Skryne, on LMFM Radio and in local newspaper interviews.

This is the first Landscape Conservation Plan to be drawn up anywhere in this country and was first announced by Dick Roche the Minister for Environment in 2005. It was later endorsed by Meath Councillors and included in the Meath County Development Plan 2007-2013. Many consultative meetings have taken place since with locals, stakeholders and experts in various fields yet it is only recently that objections have been raised and all before the deadline for submissions had even been reached. This suggests that the voices of those who prepared submissions for the Wednesday 16th June deadline will not be taken into account by these publicly elected Politicians even before the planning process has been concluded.

The Tara Skryne Preservation Group fully supports the principles outlined in the Plan believing it will be of great benefit to the local community by preserving the landscape rich in history and heritage for future generations, as well as promoting Meath as a Tourism and Heritage destination.

We ask that the Meath Co Council team involved with this project, The Heritage Council and the Dept. of the Environment assuage mounting fears amongst locals by counteracting the concerted campaign of negative propaganda which is currently in full sway. We can only assume that the real fears spreading in the community are being fueled by developers etc. in reaction to the prospect of a drop in revenue from not being able to proceed with inappropriate development within the Tara Skryne Valley.

The Tara Skryne Preservation Group calls on our more responsible Politicians to take the lead, to do what is right by coming forward to support the Plan for the present and future good of all.

Is mise le meas,

Carmel Diviney,

Secretary ,

TSPG.

www.taraskryne.com

Contacts for further information:

Sean Gilmartin Chairman 0877525674

Carmel Diviney Secretary 0876100771 
  

On the 4th June this last Friday the M3 motorway was officially opened by the Transport Minister Noel Dempsey to the sound of pomp and praise and much patting of backs! There has been a long and hard battle fought against the construction of the motorway through County Meath, which reduces the time to travel between County Cavan and Dublin. The road was of course constructed below the Hill of Tara, through the Skryne valley, forever blighting a very sacred space of Ireland’s past history. Many, many people protested against what was happening, writers, environmentalists, ordinary Irish people, even UNESCO deplored it, but ‘Celtic Tiger’ Ireland at the time had its tail swishing violently and went ahead, oblivious to the fact that economies also go down. So here is a personal version of what happened on the day by Carmel Diviney, one of the leaders (and there are many more) who worked so hard in the background of protest against the desecration of prehistoric sites. 

Let us raise a glass to all those that would protest and make visible their anger, and for their dedication to a cause that although lost was in the end a triumph of human spirit battling the odds;  the following is a personal viewpoint of the day of the opening of this motorway…

The last few days have been very calm, serene even, but what little sleep I got last night I awoke from crying.  I guess it had to come out somewhere. This morning that old familiar rush of adrenaline replaced any sadness felt as we gathered at the Car Park with a Garda helicopter circling overhead. They circled Rath Lugh too. I don’t know what they expected but we heard through the reliable grapevine that the Politicians were nervous.

From there we went on up to the Athboy Roundabout where about 20 of us stood with banners and costume ( I was relishing my role as the Grim Reaper and had a lovely coffin with FF and Greens emblazoned on it LOL .On a day such as this we had to have some craic and we surely did have that. We had a mandolin, fiddle and tin whistle player to entertain us too, God bless the Musicians . We stayed there for over two hours-during the whole time that the opening ceremony was held further on up the road – we did’nt have a chance to get any nearer to it as the cars that passed us on their way all had special passes and were inspected by Gardaí. The whole operation must have cost a pretty penny. While there, we were interviewed by several film crews and newspapers. I wonder how much of it will make it to mainstream media – but sure what of it.

 Eventually we headed up to the car park at the Hill and held another protest there. Vincent Salafia of Tarawatch did a good interview with TV3 and while I hope that sound bite made it to air we were told that there was no guarantee our background visuals, which included the Grim Reaper complete with scythe, a coffin (as already mentioned) and a gallows with Noel Dempsey’s head hanging from it, would make it to air. Go figure. The group outside the Athboy Hotel stayed longer in their positions to welcome in the workers and whoever else was invited to the free nosh up there and they got interviewed by even more press.

Maybe we had more coverage today than any other day in this long saga, I don’t know. We all met up again after lunch and moved to our next positions, Rath Lugh, Collierstown and Lismullin. More banners were erected, songs were sung, we made the most of it. Cars passing by beeped in support which perplexed me as I wondered what the hell were they doing on the goddamned Motorway!?! Others gave us the fingers, at least I could understand them!

Some still remain now at Lismullin Bridge but most of us finished our day by steeping our feet in the Gabhra at late evening. It was a lovely end to the day. I am so glad we did that. The communal gathering had a very healing effect as we let the intense heat of the day and all its emotions be washed away in her cooling Sacred waters. Bless each and every one who turned up today in those soaring temperatures and those that couldnt make it but had us and Tara in their thoughts.

 Thank you. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.               Carmel  Diviney

 http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2010/0605/1224271906960.html

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/toibin-attacks-construction-of-shameful-m3-121601.html

by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

The hills are alive – with the sound of vehicles… The Irish Times reports that the controversial Tara-Skryne M3 route is to open to traffic on the 4th of June;

“The 60km M3 motorway from Clonee on the Meath Dublin border to the Meath Cavan border provoked controversy, legal challenge and some direct action protests because of its route which passes through the Gabhra Valley between the hills of Tara and Skryne. Complaints about the process which permitted the destruction of a national monument were also made to the EU, some of which are ongoing. The route is expected to greatly ease peak-time traffic between Kells and Dublin bypassing the towns of Dunboyne, Dunshaughlin, Navan and Kells.”

Those caring politicians, eh? They’re always worrying about the common good. I also notice that councillors, in the exact same county, are getting themselves all het up – over a threat to the God-given right of landowners, in sensitive, world-famous, prehistoric landscapes, to stick houses where they damn well please. In this case, in a proposed buffer zone around the same Tara-Skryne area. Houses, roads – hey, why not just let them dig the whole bugger up, stir it well and bake it into a cake? Or ball it up and lob it across the sea at England. It’s ‘their land’, after all;

“I don’t want to see happening in Tara-Skryne what happened in the Newgrange area. I don’t want to see a person who owns land in the proposed buffer zone being unable to provide a site for a house for a son or daughter,”

Don’t forget, County Meath already has enough land zoned for 124,173 houses and a projected need for only 2,032, and these are the same lads and lassies responsible. Would you buy a used vehicle (to pay to drive on the M3) from them? Would you trust them to make decisions of permanent impact? Well, actually you do. 

A lot of people have tried to make themselves noticed over this M3 issue and a last protest is to be held at the road-opening on the 4th of June. As many as possible are being asked to support it, and the vigil over the next couple of weekends – with any luck it will be the biggest gathering of all. Please go, if you can, or if you’re able to get there.

http://www.taraskryne.com/home.html

World Heritage Status sought for sites.

The historic city of Dublin
The Céide Fields and North West Mayo Boglands
Western Stone Forts
The Monastic City of Clonmacnoise and its cultural landscape
Early Medieval Monastic Sites
The Royal Sites of Ireland: Cashel, Dún Ailinne, Hill of Uisneach, Rathcroghan Complex and Tara Complex

It will be noted that the Tara Complex under the heading of Royal Sites of Ireland has managed to make it into the submissions to UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, though of course the damage already done by the motorway under the Hill of Tara, damaging Rath Lugh and destroying the Lismullin Henge recently, does not seem to have been mentioned in the following quotation;  “erosion, agricultural and quarrying activity”, they still had “all the elements necessary to express the outstanding universal value of the royal sites” to give a “complete representation of the features and processes conveying their significance”.  Hmmm – roads are ominously missing from that statement!

Still the Céide Fields and North West Mayo Boglands are also on the list,  “The Céide Fields are included as “the outstanding example of human settlement, land-use and interaction with environment in Neolithic times”, which we should  be grateful for. The following link gives a full account of the submissions.

Article in Irish Times by Frank McDonald.

What do politicians consider? There’s a question. What makes them decide, apart from instinct, in favour of this, to reject that? Is it the national interest? Is it the impact on employment and economic growth? Is there a finger, or a fist, held to the winds of public opinion? How much pressure comes from special interest groups, or big business? Or, and excarnate the flesh to the most basic level, is it merely about pressing the right nerves with sufficient of the electorate to ensure re-election, while keeping damage to the interests of the ‘very helpful’ people to a minimum?

Think about Tara and the M3. Then imagine a great balance, an old-fashioned weighing scales, two pans dangling on expensive golden chains, somewhere inside the basement of Leinster House. How could that balance have been tipped? Could it ever, really, have been tipped?

 

Roestown Souterrain Complex - Filled in and buried under several tonnes of concrete.

The trail of the M3 works, from Rath Lugh back to Lismullin - The huge Iron Age enclosure was recorded and then, incredibly, destroyed.

The impact of the works on the side of Rath Lugh.

The face of the Rath was stripped and left exposed for a long period - The trenches that striate the side were caused by movement of water over this time.

Deep tracks, cut by heavy machinery, in the soft ground near Lismullin.

Further Reading: M3, Co. Meath: The End of the Road 

by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

The Tarawatch website has reported a recent briefing, from the National Roads Authority to Meath County Council, about another tolled motorway; the Leinster Orbital Route. The proposed road would circle the outer Dublin area for 80km, all the way from County Meath down to County Wicklow and cut, once again, through the area around the Hill of Tara. Furthermore, according to Tarawatch, the feasibility study indicates that the controversial Blundelstown interchange, a vast 50 acre tattoo on one side of the hill, was originally conceived with this route in mind.

Of course, archaeology and the sanctity of Ireland’s ancient heritage were far from the minds of some of the local councillors, when they were presented with news of the proposal. According to the Meath Chronicle; “serious doubts were raised over the need to keep a 2km-wide corridor of land open while consultations take place over the choosing of a final route for the motorway.” Indeed and how can you be expected to get planning permission sorted for houses and development, if you don’t know exactly where the road is going to be?

“Councillor Tommy Reilly said that he had been shouting for 10 years about the need for an outer orbital route. The motorway would “open up the county” and bring development, a regional college, hospitals and industries. He hoped there would be a quick decision on the selection of final route.”

I’m sure that he does.

Still only a ripple on the water, but ripples will turn into waves. In the words of the feasibility report; “ready and available for implementation at any stage in the future, when required.”

According to the International Energy Agency ; “a continuation of current trends in energy use puts the world on track for a rise in temperature of up to 6°C and poses serious threats to global energy security.” In what position does that analysis place our road/development obsession?

Well Tara has finally arrived on the Unesco Tentative List site alongside other royal sites  of Ireland; (Cashel, Drin Ailinne, Hill of Uisneach, Rathcroghan Complex and Tara Complex): The Royal Sites represent unique expressions of lrish society as places of royal inauguration, ceremony and assembly, representing each of the five provinces of Ancient Ireland.

It is of course all a bit late in the day, the landscape has been severely damaged by the impact of the motorway that is almost built; the Green Minister Mr. Gormley having inherited the poisoned chalice of ‘growth at all costs’ sold his ‘green’ values down the road for political expediency and then, surprise, surprise, the so called ‘celtic tiger’ economy unfortunately lost its roar.
There is a long and well thought out  presentation on Tarawatch in response to this news, a proposal and citing of the archaeological and historical importance of Tara and its surrounding landscape…

A common misunderstanding exists that Tara simply consists of the ridge known as the Hill of Tara. Recent research, following the most modern theories of archaeological landscape and surveying techniques, shows that the central ceremonial complex on the hill was surrounded by settlements, religious monuments, ceremonial entrances and route-ways and strategically-placed fortifications. Extended ritual and settlement complexes, or landscapes, are a recognised archaeological phenomenon known elsewhere in Ireland. Other examples include Navan Fort (Emain Macha), Co. Armagh and Rathcroghan (Ráith Crúachain), Co. Roscommon. In the medieval period (7th to 12th century), the prehistoric landscape of Tara translated into a royal demesne defended by the local kings.

Whether or not the Hill of Tara and its surrounding monuments will make it as a World  Heritage Site remains to be seen but the proposed Tentative List for Ireland – 2009  can be found here.

by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

Almost the ‘end of the road‘, the 90% completed stage, for the construction of the M3 motorway and two Irish Times articles on the subject have been highlighted by Vincent Salafia and Tarawatch.

http://www.tarawatch.org/?p=1332

It has been a long struggle for those who campaigned and protested, with fingers pressed desperately into the dam:

“No protesters are currently blocking or picketing any part of the motorway, and Vincent Salafia of Tarawatch said that such action is unlikely to recur. “The frontline part of the campaign is pretty much over. There are people still protesting in the area, but not on the front line of the road. At this stage any protest on the road would be a largely symbolic gesture, but that doesn’t mean the campaign is over.”

Recent changes to the criminal trespass laws had made such protests more difficult, Mr Salafia said, but he said Tarawatch was continuing to campaign against the road…”

The law, as we have seen before in the 2004 amendment to the National Monuments Act, seems mutable whenever it comes into conflict with construction interests.

The two pieces refer to the greatest foci of controversy as follows:

“…the route runs just over 2km from the Hill of Tara, and adjacent to the Lismullin national monument and the hill fort of Rath Lugh…

…The road does not go through the fort, but skirts it incredibly closely, to the extent that a “crib wall” has been constructed against the fort wall to secure the earthen structure. The road also skirts the national monument at Lismullin. As this site has already been preserved and covered by a farm access road, nothing remains to be seen.”

However, Mr Salafia has made these corrections to the information:

“- the M3 is not 2km away from Tara, but 1km from the crest of the Hill

- the M3 more than ‘skirts’ Lismullin national monument. The NRA demolished the site, despite being warned by the European Commission not to

- Rath Lugh marks the edge of the Tara complex, and the M3 ‘skirts’ inside, rather than outside Rath Lugh, which is also a national monument”

There is a great destructive force in any inundation; whether of concrete, asphalt or water and there should surely be an awareness of the full extent of it in Meath. It’s an easy option to settle the protestors in your mind as a bunch of fanatics, people who could only see the issue in black and white. Then conveniently let it slip away into oblivion. Phrases like ‘skirts closely’, ’2km from the Hill’ and ’preserved’, while indicating that something happened, fail to demonstrate the true level of demolition and hint, perhaps, that there was a bit of an overreaction. Uninformed, knee-jerk opposition to what NRA spokesman Seán O’Neill refers to as “the construction of a new, safe, value for money motorway.”

These monuments were irretrievably damaged, however, in some cases destroyed and for what? The route chosen wasn’t the only possibility, but viable alternatives were dismissed without a second look. In hindsight and given the collapse of the economy, the motorway itself may not even have been necessary. Some people obviously thought so. As has recently been revealed, Eurolink were given a minimum traffic guarantee, which surely indicates  prior consideration, if not expectation, of low usage levels.

Anyone with half an eye on national events will concede that this is a country where the elite are in and out of each others pockets, smoothing their respective ways along. You wouldn’t have to be particularly conspiracy-minded to smell something fishy in the alterations of laws when they prove inconvenient to ’progress’. Or the swift ’about-face’ of the Greens when they arrived in Government. Why was this route and project, opposed by the EU, prominent archaeologists and a significant body of the public, untouchable?

…and how much is it going to end up costing? The more I think about this issue, the more it’s bugging me.

First we have Vincent Salafia:

Mr Salafia has criticised the cost to the taxpayer of the motorway. He said this will amount to €727.4 million over the life of the toll contract with Eurolink, which ends in 2052.”

Swiftly put back in his place by our National Roads Authority spokesman Seán O’Neill:

“In fact only €250 million is being paid up front; the rest of the cost is being borne by the contractor . . . Distorting the figures doesn’t benefit the public…”

However, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General, a presumably impartial authority:

“…the tolled M3 Clonee to Kells motorway, which is due to open next year, will cost taxpayers €727.4m in total over the next 42 years.”

Does the €250 million “up front” not include the cost of maintaining the roads? Is the remainder of the €727.4 million, “borne by the contractor”, “in fact” repayable to them in instalments? How can you get from one figure to the other?

Who, exactly, is doing the distorting in this situation?

Wake me up after the recession.

Wake me up after the recession.

 
 
It has been disturbing to read, courtesy of ‘Village’ magazine, the results of “a cursory examination of planning and zoning decisions”, in a number of Irish counties. Granting the possibility that this behaviour might not be universal (although the suspicion would have to be otherwise), the next time you read about a conflict between Irish local councils and heritage-minded citizens you might do well, nonetheless, to keep it in mind. Here follows a few brief examples:
 

In County Meath, location of the ongoing Tara controversy, councillors recently amended a local area plan, against the arguments of the County Manager, to allow a new road to run through an existing housing estate and to open up adjacent land for housing. It was claimed that residents of the estate, in a town which already had a large surplus of zoned land and who had each actually signed a petition against it, were in favour

In the same county two other councillors, an independent and a Green, pushed for the re-zoning of land, close to a major town, “against the advice of planning officials”. The article goes on to state that; “Across County Meath there is concern about the manner in which more than a dozen local area plans for various towns and village settlements are being railroaded through the council.” Who benefited?

In County Dublin, two prominent businessmen, who had paid almost €25million to the Revenue Commissioners after corruption investigations, stand to recoup much of their loss due to ownership of land that is included in Fingal County Council’s housing and commercial expansion plans. Lands were also re-zoned by councillors in County Wicklow, against massive local and planning opposition, after developers promised land for schools and a Garda station. Once the decision was made it was announced that this land would cost the taxpayer €1million per acre.

Several more examples are given, all following the formula of:

(1) Councillors make a re-zoning or planning decision, that goes against local opinion and that of planning experts.

(2) From amidst the intricate weaves of connections and ownerships, a developer, often a prominent supporter of some party, benefits.

Of course, Irish property prices have collapsed and many of these developers are now in serious trouble, yet the state has guaranteed the banks and the cost of any defaults will be ultimately borne by the taxpayer, via NAMA.

As initially stated, it is not advisable to expect individual cases to represent an overall behaviour, but you’d have to wonder. Costly commuter housing estates, being built miles outside Dublin, requiring motorways to cut a few minutes off journey time and that absolutely have to go along certain routes – who owned the land? It’s our landscape and our heritage, our descendant’s landscape and their heritage, that has been finely minced into the trough, with the National Monuments Act to ease the passage down.

Preservation by Record? Oh… that’s ok then.

Connolly, F.(2009) ‘Bad planning hasn’t gone away’ Village Issue 4 (June) 55-57

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