If you are seeking the spirit of the nation, take the old road to Tara

IN September 2004 the Meath Chronicle reported that Meath county councillors had agreed a motion “to invite Pope John Paul II to light the Pascal fire (for Easter) on the Hill of Tara as part of his proposed visit to Ireland in 2005”.

Cllr Alison Byrne, who proposed the motion, said: “It is in Meath that St Patrick, our patron saint, is said to have begun converting pagan Ireland to Christianity and explain the Holy Trinity with the aid of the three-leaf shamrock.”

Valerie J Keeley Archaeological Consultants Inc (VJK) had reported this tradition to Meath county council in their 1999 archaeological assessment of the N3 corridor between Navan and Dunshaughlin.

It stated: “In the popular imagination Tara is where the Christian Church, represented by Saint Patrick, won victory over pagan beliefs and established the road to national conversion in the fifth century.”

VJK added: “The corridor includes one of Ireland’s best known archaeological complexes on the Hill of Tara. It is recommended that all sites and their environs as identified be avoided. This recommendation is most strongly urged for the area of and surrounding the Hill of Tara, where current archaeological research is continuing to discover more and more sites.”

Environment Minister Dick Roche has granted licences to excavate and demolish 38 archaeological sites within the Tara complex/landscape.

What would Pope John Paul II have made of this decision?

He gave an historic speech to Unesco in June 1980, in which he said: “Use every means at your disposal to watch over the fundamental sovereignty possessed by every nation by virtue of its own culture. Protect it and cherish it for the sake of the future of the great human family.”

In a welcoming address to the new Irish ambassador to the Vatican in 2001, he said: “The inherited wisdom and resources of Ireland’s heritage and tradition, as well as the gifts and talents of its citizens, should continue to provide a sure guide and inspiration for social progress.”

But he also gave a warning: “Recent years have brought rapid social and economic change, leading to many positive developments, but also to new and sometimes destabilising demands on individuals and society. In particular, as you have observed, there is a need to discern those trends and changes, which encourage genuine progress while safeguarding the values on which our nation is built. A country is more than the sum of its possessions and powers; it is the cradle and home of a people’s soul and spirit.”

His passion for national cultural heritage is evident in his 2005 book, Memory and Identity: Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium.

“Patriotism is a love for everything to do with our native land: its history, its traditions, its language, its natural features. The native land is the common good of all citizens and as such it imposes a serious duty. Every danger that threatens the overall good of our native land becomes an occasion to demonstrate this love.

“The very idea of ‘native land’ presupposes a deep bond between the spiritual and the material, between culture and territory. Territory seized by force from a nation somehow becomes a plea crying out to the ‘spirit’ of the nation itself. The spirit of the nation awakens, takes on fresh vitality, and struggles to restore the rights of the land.”

In light of Mr Roche’s decision, our struggle is only just beginning.

Vincent Salafia

1 Dodder Vale


Dublin 14

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