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OLD-IRISH-L  April 2005

OLD-IRISH-L April 2005

Subject:

Tara-Skryne in NY Times

From:

Dennis King <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Scholars and students of Old Irish <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 25 Apr 2005 11:50:03 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (114 lines)

New York Times, Op-Ed article, April 25

A Road Runs Through Tara
By COLM TOIBIN

Dublin  The house is built now that I have been dreaming about for 
years. Every week I drive down from Dublin, due south through County 
Wicklow into County Wexford. I was born and brought up near there.

This two-hour journey from Dublin to Wexford to the new house where I 
write belongs to memory. There are a few spots along that stretch of 
road that have all the resonance and flavor of childhood, but most of 
the road has changed beyond recognition. The narrow winding road to 
Dublin has become mostly motorway - anodyne, anonymous, flavorless. I 
love it.

I wish I missed the old narrow, familiar road. But I do not. I love the 
efficiency, the modernity, the coolness of the new road. I love getting 
to Dublin in an hour and a half rather than two hours. I love driving 
freely in the outside lane, rather than being stuck forever behind a 
tractor or a cattle truck.

Nonetheless, when, a number of years ago, they were widening the road 
that runs through a nature reserve called the Glen of the Downs, I 
supported the protesters, mainly young people who moved there and lived 
in the trees. I even stopped my car one day and gave them money to help 
them in their campaign against the road builders. I spoke in a 
television debate in their favor, pointing out that Irish governments 
since independence have seldom been willing to put our precious heritage 
before crude, quick development. They would, if the opportunity arose, 
run a motorway through the Hill of Tara, the most important ancient 
Irish site.

Until recently, this idea might be useful in a heated debate as a worst 
case, impossible to contemplate, on a par with selling your granny. But 
this now is the prospect we face in Ireland. Despite protests from many 
distinguished archaeologists and historians, it seems likely that in the 
next few weeks, the government will announce that it is going ahead with 
plans to build a four-lane highway and a busy interchange close to the 
Hill of Tara.

Tara, an hour's drive northwest of Dublin, was the seat of kings and 
remains the site of legends. It was, from prehistoric times, given a 
special status. It was where St. Patrick in the fifth century confronted 
the pagan kings and druids. It was the center of the universe in many of 
the ancient Irish sagas, the pinnacle of power.

In the 19th century, as Irish nationalism looked to a past unsullied by 
the Danish or Norman or English invasions, it became a symbol of 
Ireland's former strength and glory. On Aug. 15, 1843, for example, 
Daniel O'Connell, the political leader, spoke at a momentous meeting 
against Ireland's union with England. He extolled the grandeur of the 
place where he stood: "Tara has historical recollections that give it an 
importance, relatively, to other portions of the land, and deserves to 
be so considered by every person who comes to it for political purposes, 
and gives it an elevation and point of impression in the public mind 
that no other part of Ireland can possibly have." Thus Tara became a 
symbol for the whole island.

Emigrants from Ireland, like the O'Hara family in "Gone With the Wind," 
could conjure up the old country by calling their estate after its most 
sacred place. Indeed, so sacred became its reputation at the end of the 
19th century, and so much mystery surrounded what was buried beneath, 
that a sect called the British Israelites began to dig there in search 
for the Ark of the Covenant. They were greeted with much indignation by 
Irish nationalists like Yeats, who believed that the Hill of Tara, where 
the remains of 30 or soprehistoric monuments are somewhat visible to 
this day, must have its mystery unraveled by the slow and painstaking 
work of archaeologists.

I drove there on a Sunday afternoon under a low and threatening Irish 
sky. It is not a set of ruined castles and broken stones. Its grandeur 
lies in its commanding position and from hints and clues, like large 
mounds, some circles and earthworks, that help us imagine what this must 
have looked like when it was a set of great ceremonial buildings and 
sites. And its grandeur lies underneath the ground, where for centuries 
to come archaeologists will find not only treasure but also significant 
evidence about early Ireland.

The proposed road will not cut through the actual hill, but it will run 
close, slicing through a landscape that was once integrated with Tara. 
The route of the road includes many important archaeological sites that 
will have to be excavated thoroughly before they are destroyed by the 
road builders.

The National Roads Authority in Ireland has built up significant 
expertise in doing these rescue missions according to best possible 
practice. The interchange and the new road, however, will bring in their 
wake not only traffic, but development like warehouses and light 
industry. A rural idyll becomes an urban landscape.

The beauty and isolation of the valley, which has Tara on one side and 
Skryne, another historical site of some importance, on the other, will 
effectively be destroyed. A place of myth and mystery will look like 
anywhere. It is called modernization.

For commuters who drive each day to work in Dublin from towns and 
villages in County Meath, where Tara lies, it might cut 20 minutes off 
the journey. It will make them happy as the road to Wexford makes me 
happy. But it seems almost beyond belief that Ireland, awash with new 
money and enormous economic confidence, cannot find another route for 
the road and leave for generations to come a heritage that has been left 
to us.

On one side of the argument there is a fierce pragmatism about the need 
to bring Irish infrastructure into the 21st century. On the other side 
there is a mixture of well-informed indignation and a lovely old 
dreaminess.

When I asked one of the opponents of the new road why he minded the idea 
of powerful lights on it and the interchange, he replied, as though the 
answer were obvious, "On a clear night Tara must be able to see the 
stars."

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