Wednesday, February 02, 2005

further evidence of lost magic on the Isle

Battle rages over Irish Celtic site
By Brian Lavery The New York Times Monday, January 31, 2005
Proposed highway route is near burial place of 140 kings

TARA, Ireland Ancient England may have Stonehenge, but ancient Ireland has the Hill of Tara. The 6,000-year-old sacred site in the middle of quiet rolling fields is revered here as the burial place of 140 kings, and as the formative birthplace of this land's national identity.
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Modern Ireland also has Dublin, whose growing metropolitan area is home to about 1.5 million people out of Ireland's population of close to 4 million. The city's expansion is causing a clash that is affecting the entire country, as lovers of the mythical and prehistoric Ireland try to preserve the tranquillity of Tara as local residents of the area struggle to commute to the capital on antiquated and inadequate roads.
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Their needs prompted plans more than four years ago for a highway stretching from Dublin into County Meath, where the population has soared in the last decade. Drivers rejoiced in the hope of relief from the traffic jams on the existing two-lane road to Dublin, which carries double its suggested vehicle capacity as it winds through farmland and past rows of new housing complexes.
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The highway's proposed route has it passing Tara, about 2.4 kilometers, or 1.5 miles, to the east, and carving through a valley that contains some of the oldest archaeological sites in Europe. As a result, the road plan has become a lightning rod for bringing ancient history into contemporary politics. Archaeologists and heritage campaigners have begun fighting a legal battle to move the road, contending that a failure to do so would prove that Ireland, much wealthier after the economic boom that transformed it into the "Celtic Tiger," had lost touch with its roots.
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Construction is to start early next year and be completed by 2008, but could take longer if protests continue.
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The campaign to preserve the Tara-Skryne Valley is backed by prominent members of Parliament and has attracted international support on the Internet.
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Tara "is important to our psyche, our nation, and our identity," said Julitta Clancy, secretary of the Meath Archeological and Historical Society, which is opposed to the route through the valley that stretches from the monuments at Tara to the picturesque ruins of a stone church on a neighboring hill at Skryne.
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Supporters of the four-lane road, which is 65 kilometers long and has a budget of about €700 million, or $900 million, counter that it does not threaten the hill itself. They point out that alternative routes pass unacceptably close to dozens of houses. They also say that the 38 archaeological sites that developers have already found along the route would be excavated, documented and stored in a museum.
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At a recent meeting of the Parliament's environment committee, opponents of the route contended that the Tara-Skryne Valley is an intact archaeological landscape, filled with dozens and possibly hundreds of undiscovered sites, like a ring of protective forts that encircle the sacred hill. They fear that Tara's spectacular views, which reach to 13 of Ireland's 32 counties on a clear day, will be marred by gas stations and restaurants at a proposed cloverleaf junction nearby.
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Unlike Stonehenge or archaeological sites like the nearby Newgrange Tomb, Tara requires a lot of imagination from contemporary visitors. The oldest monuments at Tara date from 4,000 B.C., and Ireland's kings were crowned on the hill until Christianity arrived. But most of its structures are buried or grown over, and are visible only as grassy bumps and ridges in the ground.
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Still, many people consider Tara to be the heart of Celtic spirituality and central to being Irish. New Age druids still hold regular ceremonies here.
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On a blustery afternoon recently, Clancy led a group of about 20 locals on a walk around the hill, pointing out monuments like the two parallel ridges stretching down a slope that could have been a processional or banquet hall.
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"It comes down to the Celtic Tiger turning its back on its Celtic past," Clancy said.
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