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3 March 2008
Heaney claims motorway near Tara desecrates sacred landscape

Poet and Nobel laureate Séamus Heaney has described the M3 motorway as a ruthless desecration of the sacred landscape around the Hill of Tara, in a BBC documentary broadcast last weekend. 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.
     In his interview, 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 dúchas, 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."
     While it is unlikely that Prof Heaney's protest will halt the construction, his comments will fuel a growing debate about values in modern Ireland. The 1995 Nobel prizewinner 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.
     The Irish government has insisted the road is a vital piece of infrastructure to ease severe traffic congestion suffered by commuters in the satellite towns on the north and west of Dublin. 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". The European Commission has begun legal proceedings against the Irish government over its decision last year to build through an archaeological find classed as a 'national monument' at Lismullen, close to Tara on the M3. Noel Dempsey, the Irish Minister for Transport, refused to participate in the programme.

Sources: The Irish Times (1 March 2008), The Observer (2 March 2008), Times Online (3 March 2008)

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