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by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

According to Frank McDonald, of the Irish Times, a large earthwork – 23 m in extent and about 4m high – has been identified, at Crewbane, on part of the eastern route for the proposed Slane bypass. Early speculation is that it forms a section of the western defence of the medieval royal fortress at Knowth. The archaeologists involved in the discovery; Joe Fenwick, Gerard Dowling and Roseanne Schot (of the Brú na Bóinne Research Project), had been commissioned to survey the area by former Irish Attorney General, John Rogers, a prominent objector to the proposal.

On foot of this survey, Mr. Fenwick has written to an Bórd Pleanála with his concerns; “It is apparent that the Crewbane souterrain (found in 2007) is not an isolated archaeological monument in the landscape, but one element in a complex of archaeological features situated on and around this prominent ridge overlooking the river Boyne. These include a second and possibly third potential souterrain, a substantial linear embankment, a circular enclosure [of] 40m in diameter [a possible ring fort], a relict field system and associated open settlement of possible medieval or early modern date… It is likely, however, that had this complex been known at the time the world heritage site perimeter was being drafted, its influence would have extended its perimeter somewhat further to the west and northwest.”

He concedes that any alternative, western route would be equally problematic from an archaeological point of view, but suggests that a viable solution might be to completely ban HGVs from the town and, instead of a bypass, to redirect traffic flow through an east-west corridor to the north. And thus towards the existing motorways; the M1 and M3.

This whole issue is problematic. While it’s difficult to argue against a bypass proposal that could save lives, so many roads have been built in Ireland already. Would it not be better, as Joe Fenwick suggests, to work with what has previously been constructed (at great expense and, occasionally, with controversy)? Traffic flow is a nightmare to guide, or to anticipate, anyway, because it’s dependent to such a degree on human behaviour, or rather, a number of different types of it. The NRA, for instance, have proposed tolling existing roads and links – like the Jack Lynch Tunnel in Cork – to help pay for more projects. Who’s to say that this bridge, in turn, wouldn’t attract a toll? It’d be a juicy enough prospect. Would all those HGVs continue to use it then?  

There’s a very funny scene in ‘Father Ted’. You’ll probably know it. It’s the one where Ted tries to hammer a small dent out of a car and, by all his compensatory tapping, reduces the vehicle to a wreck – it’s like that tale of the man who keeps slicing bits off the legs of his stool, to stop it wobbling, and eventually ends up sitting on the floor. In the week that it was announced that we, in Ireland, have one of the ten worst “ecological footprints” in the world, you’d have to wonder how much we’ve lost in our ‘process‘. Is the earthwork at Crewbane now fated to be another Lismullin; or another in a line of Lismullins, stretching, from case to case, into the future? To what eventual purpose? Will each ‘solved’ problem just pop up somewhere else instead? And how much will we have left under us at the end of it all?
These lines were written in another time and about another time, long before that again;

“…While, as a youth with practised spear
Through jostling crowds bears off the ring,
Boyne from their shoulders caught the bier
And proudly bore away the king.

At morning, on the grassy marge
Of Rossnaree, the corpse was found,
And shepherds at their early charge
Entomb’d it in the peaceful ground.

A tranquil spot: a hopeful sound
Comes from the ever youthful stream,
And still on daisied mead and mound
The dawn delays with tendered beam.

Round Cormac Spring renews her buds:
In march perpetual by his side,
Down come the earth-fresh April floods,
And up the sea-fresh salmon glide;

And life and time rejoicing run
From age to age their wonted way;
But still he wait’s the risen Sun’
For still ‘tis only dawning day.”

– from Samuel Ferguson’s ‘The Burial of King Cormac’


October 2010

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