Tara at the crossroads of history

TARA is under threat. The National Roads Authority continues to perpetuate the fiction that Tara is confined to the cluster of monuments on the hilltop. This is not the case.

The hilltop is but one element of what our ancestors understood Tara to be in antiquity. The hilltop is part of a wider, integrated, archaeological and historical landscape. That part lying to the eastern side of the hilltop was especially important in prehistoric times and subsequently, in the early historic period, it became the royal demesne of the kings of Tara.

The planned route of the M3 toll-motorway and major floodlit interchange at Blundelstown (lying little more than 1.5km from the ‘Banqueting Hall’ on the hilltop) will cut through the heart of this exceptionally sensitive landscape. In so doing it will irreparably damage the cultural integrity of this internationally significant archaeological complex.

The construction of housing and industrial estates that will inevitably follow in its wake will destroy Tara’s environmental context forever.

It was acknowledged as early as 2000, in the N3 Navan-to-Dunshaughlin route selection report and reiterated in the environmental impact statement (2002) that “this section of the M3 runs through one of the richest and best-known archaeological landscapes in Europe”.

Ironically, this is once again confirmed by the recent announcement from the NRA that test trenching along the proposed route between Navan and Dunshaughlin alone has uncovered no fewer than 28 archaeological sites and major complexes. This news, though alarming, is entirely as predicted by experts researching Tara. As usual, one can expect yet further discoveries in advance of road construction.

Irrespective, however, of the large numbers of monuments, the destruction of this intact archaeological landscape is too great a price to pay should this development proceed as planned.

We are not opponents of progress and development, but sometimes, in exceptional circumstances, it is necessary to question and reconsider major development decisions. The case of Tara is just such an exception. Are we in danger of repeating the same bitterly regretted mistakes as were made at Stonehenge?

In that instance a major road has to be replaced by a tunnel, at enormous expense, in an attempt to ameliorate the irreversible damage inflicted on Britain’s foremost archaeological monument and cultural landscape.

In the case of Tara and the M3 there are viable and realistic alternatives where both infrastructure and heritage can be successfully accommodated (without requiring a tunnel).

Tara is the crossroads at which we should pause to reflect on the direction we, as a nation, choose to take with regard to our unique and valuable heritage. We cannot afford to get it wrong.

Dr Edel Bhreathnach, Micheál Ó Cléirigh Institute, UCD;

Charles Doherty, School of History, UCD;

Professor George Eogan, PhD, D Litt Dublin;

Joe Fenwick, Department of Archaeology, NUI Galway;

Dr Elizabeth FitzPatrick, Department of Archaeology NUI, Galway;

Prof Dennis Harding, MA, DPhil, FRSE Abercromby Professor of Archaeology University of Edinburgh;

Seamus Mac Gabhann, Editor, Journal of Meath Archaeological and Historical Society NUI, Maynooth;

Dr Finbar McCormick, School of Archaeology and Palaeoecology, QUB;

Conor Newman, Department of Archaeology, NUI, Galway;

Prof Máirín Ní Dhonnchadha, Scoil na Gaeilge, NUI, Galway;

Prof Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Department of History, NUI, Galway;

Prof Etienne Rynne, MRIA, FSA, Galway;

Prof Alfred Smyth, Dean of Arts & Humanities Canterbury Christ Church University College;

Prof Charles Thomas, FBA, Hon MRIA, Cornwall;

Prof John Waddell, Dept of Archaeology, NUI Galway;

Richard Warner, MRIA Belfast;

Dr Niamh Whitfield, PhD, FSA London.

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