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by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

“The name of the place where France and Britain decided to mount their joint assault now resonates through history. This scene of one of the bloodiest battlefields of the First World War is full of landmarks like ’Usna Hill’, ’Tara Hill’, and ’Munster Alley’, landmarks that got their nicknames from the tens of thousands of Irish soldiers who fought at this place.”

– a description of the Somme by Neil Richardson (from ’A Coward if I Return, a Hero if I Fall’; 2010, 69)

Around 200,000 Irishmen volunteered to fight in the First World War, Richardson writes; over a quarter of all eligible men in the country. More than 35,000 of those volunteers never returned. And those that did were frequently derided, ostracised; sometimes shot – the victims of a massive, subsequent swing in the national mood. Over the years that I’ve watched, and felt myself (I won’t deny it), the political mood swings of this same nation; Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour, the Progressive Democrats and the Green party, have each risen, sometimes risen again and then fallen after the swell of their wave. What does it mean? Do we think, or do we just feel? Are we volatile?

At the moment we are mired in pessimisism. All of us. The billions of euros lost by our major banks, in their mindless, greed-driven land speculation, have been guaranteed by the state, by us; the same state that regularly spends far more than it gains in taxes. And, technically, we are bankrupt. Last week, a report was released that detailed a decade of warnings to the Government about its spending habits. Those warnings were regularly ignored – spreading cash around was a good way of getting votes, and people loved Fianna Fail for it. And voted them in again and again.

Who pays the bill for it all now? Or rather, who loved them before and who hates them now? They’re the same party. There were plenty of warnings, over the years, to us, about what was going on – but the sweets were more enticing than watching the stable door. And the swell was there. We just rolled with the motion of the water. Only five years ago we were kings of the world – what would those soldiers think of the men who dared to paste a motorway beside the real Hill of Tara? Face it, if they were really like us and if they were living here five years ago, they, like the voters of Meath, would probably have sipped another latte and said; “go on lads, work away”.

Would their answer be the same if they were asked now? That mood has changed again. To look at it another way; if those same soldiers had stayed at home in 1914, would they not also have jeered the returning volunteers? What are we like, as a people? Are we all so volatile? The more you think about anything, the less clear it becomes – only those with Yeats’ “passionate intensity”, the intensity of the swell, can be sure of what they are doing. And they, he said, are the worst of us all.

Another road, a new bypass, is being planned near Newgrange and every alternative proposal for a route has been dismissed by those involved. I still don’t know – since I first heard of it I‘ve been trying, and failing, to decide what‘s right and what‘s wrong in this situation. How can they be so sure that theirs’ is the only way? Can they really be holding their minds steady amidst the waves?

Anyone that didn’t see this coming was in denial; from Paul Melia in yesterday’s Irish Independent (the special “Four-Year Plan” section);

“But there will be no major schemes starting in 2012 or 2013. This means the N5 Ballaghadreen bypass, N4 Downes upgrade, N2 Slane Bypass, N22 Macroom to Ballyvourney, N8/N25 Dunkettle Roundabout and Enniscorthy/New Ross bypass are shelved.”

Although they may not remain so; the Department of Transport tells us that these “high priority schemes will proceed as funding becomes available and planning permission is granted”. The Government has effectively pawned the country to pay for the bankers and their credit spree (“Business is about risk“; said Seánie Fitz, but that turned out to be our risk, didn’t it?), but there’re always other ways and means. As the Independent points out;

“The Government is looking at charging motorists to use new and existing routes in an effort to fund new road projects across the State.”

If the bypass, proposed to run just 500m outside the Brú na Bóinne buffer zone, does eventually go ahead and it, as a “new route”, is tolled, then how many of those high-toll HGVs would actually use it? Looking further ahead; how many are going to use any of these roads, when the oil is gone or too expensive to use (a couple of decades, give or take)?

Press Release from the Department of Transport

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’

There are a couple of news items to report today. The first, regarding the proposed N2 Slane bypass – close to the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site – can be found here:

An Bórd Pleanála has ordered Meath County Council to publish “additional information“, beyond that included in its original Environmental Impact Statement. It has also ordered the Council to reopen public consultation;

“Meath County Council will publish a new public notice in national newspapers tomorrow, Friday, 17th September, giving the public until Friday 15th October to make submissions to An Bórd Pleanála. The original consultation had closed on 25 February 2010.”

The Council must provide, inter alia, further information on; the archaeological and geophysical investigations that were carried out; the question of adequate consideration of an alternative route; and the design alternatives for the proposed bridge.

And more here:

I wonder where the money for this proposed project is going to come from? At least, within the next decade – seeing as we’re now taking in only about half of what we need, in taxes, to cover outgoings. And that’s not including the money that’s gone and yet to go, on Anglo Irish et al. Tax revenues won’t be rising anytime soon, I’d imagine? 

The second item, regarding the building (no pun intended) friction over the landscape conservation plan for the Tara-Skryne valley, appears here;

It seems that tensions were running high in Navan, on Monday night, The article reports; “chaotic scenes which included slow hand-clapping and heated confrontation between people of opposing views.” Surprised?;

“Those gathered in the hotel expressed concern about planning restrictions and de-exemptions proposed in the plan, in addition to the extent of the area taken in by the proposed plan, which stretches from Walterstown to Bective, Dunsany and Kilmessan, across to Skryne and Tara.”

God forbid that anyone should tamper with our right, as Irish, to build a house. The first section of a letter, that we published back in June, should be read in conjunction with the article above;

“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… 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.”

Another step in the ongoing Slane bypass marathon. According to the Irish Times, An Bórd Pleanála is examining an alternative western route for the proposed road, one that would run – in a move of eerie symmetry with the effect (on the World Heritage Site) of the original – ; “just 500m from Slane Castle and its famous concert site.” The sacred versus the profane?

This alternative proposal would necessitate the demolition of some local businesses and has, obviously, generated heated reactions from the people concerned;

“If they think I am a pushover they have another thing coming,” – Sir Henry Mountcharles, owner of Slane castle.

“This route would wipe out a lifetime’s work by my parents, me and my children. The route would go through the yard and house and takes the lot out… It is just not a viable option; it looks to be three times longer and the terrain is totally unsuitable and impractical. It doesn’t make sense and is squandering money,” – Paddy Macken, owner of Slane Farm Cottages and Hostel.
When I wrote about this at the time, I ventured the theory that cost-saving (economics) may have been the main reason behind choosing the more direct eastern route, but was assured that – on the contrary – it was chosen because it was the least destructive option for the many historical features of the wider area. Fair enough. When you are proposing alterations to (or destruction of the archaeology of) the sensitive environs of a World Heritage Site, factors such as the level of suitability of alternative terrain shouldn’t come into the equation – if it is any way feasible, at all, then it has to be used. Therefore, the references to length and practicality, in the latter quote have to be non-starters. I would, however, feel a large measure of sympathy for anyone who might lose their immediate surroundings, financial compensation notwithstanding.

Is there a need for a bypass? Dr. Edgar Morgenrath of the ESRI wrote, in the Irish Times last year, that; “It is remarkable that there are plans to facilitate the avoidance of the toll on the M1 by building a bypass around Slane involving the expensive construction of a bridge over the river Boyne when a simple HGV ban would solve the local traffic problems”. This is a point on which I still have some confusion. How much of the HGV traffic should actually be taking the Belfast/Dublin motorway, and not the N2?
The whole debate may be no more than academic for some time to come, in any case, despite the fears of locals focusing on the idea that ; “…a new route will delay the building of the bypass and risk more crashes.” Today’s Irish Independent carries the following news;

“FORTY major road projects and key rail and Luas projects have been scrapped because there is no money to build them… The axed projects will be confirmed in a government mid-term review of the National Development Plan (NDP), which is expected to be completed within weeks… The only projects considered “safe” under the NDP are Metro North, the Atlantic Corridor Road project linking Letterkenny to Waterford, and the underground DART.”

Hey, Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Photo courtesy

Groups of people will gather in the tomb each morning from Friday until Wednesday to wait for the light to enter the tomb at dawn.

Among those who have won the opportunity are people who will travel to Meath from Los Angeles and other parts of the US, France, Sweden, Portugal, Austria, the UK and all over Ireland.

The names of the winners were drawn from 32,995 entries!


December 2022

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