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24 July 2004
Motorway threatens Hill of Tara

The historic Hill of Tara, described as the "heart and soul" of Ireland, is about to take on a new aspect. Plans for a motorway which will pass within half a mile of the ceremonial and historical capital of prehistoric Ireland have attracted huge criticism from the country's academics, historians and archaeologists. The row represents a clash between an urgent need to improve transport links around Dublin and a desire to protect the country's heritage.
     Academics are appalled at the prospect of the new road encroaching on territory which an expert has described as one of the must culturally and archaeologically significant places in the world. The road scheme, which will raise money through tolls, seems nonetheless certain to go ahead, having gone through all the necessary planning procedures. Tara lies in Co Meath to the north-west of Dublin, and it is the phenomenal growth of the capital that has produced the huge increase in traffic.
     The academics have not succeeded in building a powerful campaign which might have deflected the roads authorities from their plans. Many locals welcome plans which could shorten their commuting time. The other problem for objectors is that the focus of attention is on the Hill. The authorities argue that the motorway will be far enough away from the Hill itself so that it will not despoil any historical heritage. The academic retort is that Tara is more than just the spectacular Hill, encompassing the surrounding landscape, and that most of its treasures lie buried underground.
     That the valley adjacent to the hill contains historical riches is not in doubt. The roads authorities have already dug a continuous test trench, two metres wide with smaller trenches branching off, along the length of the motorway. The results were striking: in the nine miles that go through Tara territory, they identified 28 sites of definite or potential archaeological interest. The government is now considering what to do about these, but is considered highly unlikely to make any major change to the route.
     One road expert said a new motorway would absorb much local traffic, leaving Tara Hill more peaceful. The fear of the academics is that the opposite will happen, with the new road attracting ever more housing and industrial development along its corridor.
     Whichever prediction is correct, the arguments in favour of the motorway have won. Its opponents are losing hope of preserving what they see as the integrity of Tara. A last despairing comment came from Fr Pat Raleigh, one of the Columban Fathers, who are based in the valley. "It's like driving a road past the pyramids," he said. "This says much about where we're going, about our values as a country."

Source: The Independent (17 July 2004)

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