|11 November 2004
Decision due on Hill of Tara motorway
The Hill of Tara, with its passage tomb, earthworks and prehistorical burial mounds, is the mythical and ceremonial capital of Ireland, dating back 4,000 years. But now the landscape in county Meath, north-west of Dublin, is the subject of a campaign to save it from what one archaeologist has called the "worst case of state-sponsored vandalism ever inflicted on Irish cultural heritage". More than 50 senior academics have joined a protest against state plans to build a four-lane motorway through the valley and create a 10-hectare (25-acre) floodlit motorway exchange half a mile from the hill itself, slicing through what historians say is a hinterland of settlements and burial grounds.
The motorway plans have been passed by Ireland's planning board, despite the campaign by archaeologists and local groups, and are now sitting on the desk of the new environment minister, Dick Roche, who has the power to say yes or no. A decision is imminent. As the campaign enters its final stage the Irish actor Stuart Townsend and his Oscar-winning girlfriend, Charlize Theron, have voiced their support. Dozens of academics from Ireland and abroad have written of their concerns in the Dublin-based Sunday Tribune. Dennis Harding of the archaeology department at Edinburgh University called the plans "an act of cultural vandalism as flagrant as ripping a knife through a Rembrandt painting".
Archaeologists who have researched Tara say the nine-mile stretch of the new M3 motorway will mean the excavation of at least 28 sites and monuments in the road's corridor. But these, they say, will be "ultimately destroyed". They expect many more sites to be affected, with 48 archaeological zones within 500 metres of the road corridor and around one site every 300 metres along the road itself.
What puzzles many international archaeologists is why Ireland has chosen this motorway route at a time when British authorities are spending hundreds of millions of pounds trying to undo past mistakes at Stonehenge. There they are grassing over one road and burying another in a tunnel to remove traffic from the surroundings of the ancient monument.
The road authorities have already dug test trenches along the corridor of the motorway, identifying 28 sites which they could excavate before building. Julitta Clancy of Meath Archaeological and Historical society said her family suffered horribly from the traffic congestion: "We desperately need a traffic solution here in Meath, but we just want it rerouted away from a sensitive landscape," she said.
Source: The Guardian (11 November 2004)
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