This motorway is a disgrace to our heritage

A unique part of Ireland's rich archaeological landscape will be irreparably damaged, says Julitta Clancy

Thursday June 8, 2006
The Guardian

Owen Bowcott outlined some of the heritage and transport issues at the centre of the controversy over the proposed routing of a four-lane motorway through the Tara landscape in Co Meath (Land of High Kings is battlefield for fight between heritage and growth, May 30).

Now, almost three years after receiving full approval, and with every advantage going their way during the local planning process - including the absence of a fair and effective appeal remedy - the article reports that the motorway developers are complaining of delays, for which they conveniently point the finger at heritage objectors.

The heritage issues are stark: one of the "richest archaeological landscapes in Europe", associated with Ireland's premier national monument, will be irreparably damaged by the routing of one six-mile section of motorway through its central valley, and the siting of a 26-acre lighted interchange just three quarters of a mile from the Hill of Tara itself. In addition, numerous archaeological sites associated with Tara will be destroyed, and there is a danger that large-scale development will follow.

And, as for transport: after years of unprecedented population growth, central Meath badly needed a well-planned, sustainable and integrated solution offering greater choice to the commuter. But what we have been offered - a double-tolled motorway and the vague possibility of a reopened rail line by 2015 - falls far short of all this.

The delays are due to a combination of factors that rest at the developer's own door, including the nature, length and complexity of the scheme and its contract; the extent and importance of the archaeology discovered in the route chosen, the obligation to excavate all the sites discovered; and delays in approving those excavations. Despite an appeal from the director of the National Museum of Ireland, the environment minister approved the excavations in the Tara section in May 2005, nine months after receipt of the application.

Excavations commenced in July 2005, and to date no excavation work has been delayed or stopped by objectors. How then do the developers, the National Roads Authority, justify their assertion in your article that "construction was due to start at the beginning of May?" How could construction start when archaeological excavations are continuing?

If there are fears that litigation might further delay the construction of the road, the authorities must look to the poor provision made for risk assessment in the original contract.

So why have we in Meath been denied the well-planned transport solution we so badly need? Why is the county council, which recently designated Meath as the "heritage capital of Ireland", pushing through with the destruction of such a unique part of the nation's heritage? And what real rights are available to citizens with genuine concerns for the environment where state infrastructure projects are involved? No satisfactory answers have yet been offered.

Julitta Clancy is assistant secretary of the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society

Unfortnately, it seems that the government here has relatively little interest in the island's past - or should I say, the eras of Ireland's past that are of most interest... Gary


I agree that the Irish government's transport/spatial strategy is shambolic and that the lack of a rail link is nothing short of a fiasco. However, if you accept a priori that people (largely those who have been forced out of Dublin by the current property price bubble) will have to commute, then the motorway is a necessary evil. No-one who has had to endure the perpetual logjam that is Dunshaughlin on a daily basis could disagree. And in fairness, the new M3 is going to be further away from the top of Tara than the current two-lane N3. I'm all for conserving our heritage, but as unpalatable as it may be, sometimes the past has to be sacrificed for the saske of the present and future.


The logjam at Dunshaughlin is a disgrace but the bypass could have been built years ago had it not been incorporated into this motorway scheme. Now it, like the Navan and Kells bypasses, are delayed unnecessarily. In addition, the routing of the M3 into the already severely-congested Blanchardstown N3/M50 Interchange makes little sense particularly when the M50 Upgrade cannot take the increased capacity as projected. Re the road being further away from Tara than the existing N3, that is an old chestnut used time and again by the NRA. It shows no conception of what comprises this archaeological landscape. The Tara landscape is smaller in extent than that at the UNESCO site Bru na Boinne, also in Co. Meath, and there is no way a motorway would be allowed through the middle of that area. Also, you cannot compare a two lane road to a 4 lane motorway. Of course heritage has to be sacrificed when necessary and the best we can hope for is reasonable time for excavations but there are some places that just should not be sacrificed (and in this case there always were alternatives). There were no protests over the huge loss of archaeology that accompanied the M1, M2 and M4 motorways through parts of Meath and it is only one short section of the M3 that is in contention.


Meath Archaeology and Historical Society

Julitta Clancy is also founder member and spokesperson of the Meath Peace Group -